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Elon coach rose after memorable H-SC experience
Commemorative rally towels will be distributed, championship banners will be unveiled, and skydivers will deliver the game ball before the University of Richmond opens Robins Stadium on Saturday.
“It should be a pretty festive day,” UR coach Latrell Scott said. “Now, we’ve got to live up to our end of the deal.”
The Spiders aim to cap the celebration with a win over Elon, a Southern Conference member led to FCS prominence in recent years by coach Pete Lembo. If the name sounds familiar to college football fans in central Virginia, that may be because Lembo drew UR interest when the Spiders searched for a coach in 2004, 2008 and last December.
Or it may be because Lembo’s Phoenix was the first of 13 teams UR defeated on the way to the 2008 national championship (28-10), and the Spiders eliminated Elon in the opening round of last season’s FCS playoffs (16-13).
Or perhaps it’s because of Lembo’s Hampden-Sydney connection. He was the offensive coordinator, offensive-line coach and recruiting coordinator in 1997 for a Tigers team that went 0-10 and was outscored 323-66.
“There were many times in the first five or six years in college coaching when I questioned if I was doing the right thing,” said Lembo, who graduated from Georgetown University in 1992 with a degree in business administration. Several of his former Hoyas teammates were attorneys or brokers driving luxury vehicles, “and I was struggling along with no health benefits and just trying to pay the rent,” said Lembo, 40.
He recalled veteran coaches telling him, “You’ve never really coached unless you’ve done three things, and that’s win them all, lose them all, and get fired.”
From the ashes of that winless H-SC season rose Lembo, named the 2001 Patriot League coach of the year and the 2007 Southern Conference coach of the year. He joined the 1998 Lehigh staff of Kevin Higgins, a former UR assistant. When Higgins left to become a Detroit Lions assistant following the 2000 season, Lembo became the Mountain Hawks’ head coach. Lembo in 2006 took over at Elon, a private school of about 5,600 students located near Burlington, N.C.
He inherited a program that last achieved a winning season in 2000. Elon joined the Southern Conference in 2003 and was 3-19 in three seasons of league competition when Lembo arrived. The Phoenix during the past two seasons has gone 13-3 in the Southern Conference – 17-7 overall – and last year advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history.
Elon (1-1), picked to finish behind Appalachian State in the Southern Conference, comes to Richmond (0-1) ranked seventh in the FCS. UR checks in at No. 9.
By John O’Connor, Richmond Times-Dispatch