East Carolina athletic director Jeff Compher, citing a late-season improvement and the extenuating circumstance of coach Jeff Lebo’s hip surgery, said Friday that Lebo will return as the Pirates coach next season. Speaking on the Greenville television show Talk of the Town, Compher publicly expressed his support for both Lebo and women’s coach Heather Macy. Lebo’s men’s team went 15-18 in 2016-17, its third straight season with a losing record. But the 15 wins were still three games better than each of the previous two years and ECU’s 6-12 mark in the American Athletic Conference was its best since joining the league. Despite Lebo missing the final 14 games after undergoing his surgery, his Pirates got better as the season went on. They went 6-8 under assistant coach Michael Perry, including an upset of Temple in the opening round of the AAC tournament. ECU then nearly rallied to beat top-seeded SMU in the quarterfinals, outscoring the Mustangs 32-18 over the final seven minutes before losing an 81-77 decision. “I was very pleased with how we finished the season,” Compher told host Henry Hinton. “I look for signs of progress and I saw those this year. It was complicated with Jeff’s surgery. That was a tough situation. “I’ve never been through a situation where a head coach had to take that much time away from their season due to a health issue and I think the staff, Mike Perry and the other assistant coaches, the student athletes really handled it well. I was proud of them for that.” Lebo’s record in seven seasons at ECU is 114-117, with the highlight coming in 2013 when he led the Pirates to 23 wins and the championship of the CollegeInsiders.com postseason tournament. He is under contract through 2020-21. This year’s team was made up of mostly underclassmen, with senior Caleb White and graduate transfer Andre Washington the only losses of significance. Compher said he was encouraged with the progress shown by the team both on and off the court, saying it was a sign that the right leadership is already in place. “I think you heard Mike Perry talk about the cultural change that’s going on with our team. I really feel that.” Compher said. “I think in the past, it was ‘let’s hope and see if we can win.’ Now we believe we can win. When you get to that point, a lot more games are possible to win. We saw that in the tournament and the way we came back in the second half, quite frankly I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years of collegiate athletics.” Like Lebo’s men’s team, the fortunes of Macy’s women’s program have taken a hit since ECU’s entrance into the AAC three years ago. It has suffered through two straight losing seasons — including this year’s 11-19 (2-14 AAC) — after winning at least 20 games in each of the three previous years.
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