Lebo steps down as ECU basketball coach

Assistant coach Michael Perry will lead the Pirates on an interim basis through the rest of the 2017-18 season

James Guillory—USA Today Sports
Jeff Lebo is out at ECU's basketball coach after seven seasons and a 116-122 record (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

  Jeff Lebo would likely have lost his job at East Carolina basketball coach last season had it not been for hip surgery that forced him to the sideline for the final 14 games.

  It’s a reprieve that didn’t last long.

  Wednesday, just six games into the current season, Lebo resigned his position effective immediately. He made the announcement at a press conference in Greenville. Assistant coach Michael Perry, who served as interim coach in Lebo’s place a year ago, will once again lead the team until a permanent coach can be hired.

   Perry went 6-8 over the final 14 games in 2016-17. His first game at the helm this year will be Thursday in Greenville against UNC Wilmington.

“In talking to my wife, my kids and my family, we thought it would be in everyone’s best interest for me to step down as basketball coach here at East Carolina,” a somber Lebo said. “It was a very hard decision to make. This place has given me new life when I was at a low point in my career. I have poured my heart and soul into this place. I love East Carolina. I love Greenville. We plan on staying here.

“It was very difficult for me to tell the players of my decision. I hope people will understand. … It’s just the time for a leadership change, time for a new direction.”

  Lebo, a former star point guard under Dean Smith at North Carolina, was the winningest Division I coach in ECU basketball history in terms of career victories. He compiled a 116-122 record in his eight years with the program, a tenure during which his Pirates achieved only two winning seasons and none since his Pirates won the CollegeInsiders.com postseason tournament in 2013.

  His current team is off to a 2-4 start with losses to Central Connecticut State and NC A&T — which are ranked 323rd and 325th among 351 NCAA Division I programs this season — but he said his decision to step down was not contingent on its performance or record.

  Lebo said his resignation was an opportunity to “pivot” to another chapter in his life after 36 years as a basketball player and coach and was something he has been considering for awhile.

   Athletic director Jeff Compher said he didn’t know of Lebo’s plans until the veteran coach came to his office Wednesday afternoon to inform him of his decision.

“While you never know how your day will go in this world of college athletics, I can tell you this news came as quite a surprise to me,” Compher said. “I have nothing but respect and admiration for Coach Lebo and the way he has run the men’s basketball coach here at ECU. He has been an outstanding friend and colleague and I will miss him.”