In the near twenty year history of the Patriot League, no other football coach has won more league games in his first five years at the helm than Lehigh's Pete Lembo. Only one coach, has a better overall winning percentage over the same period of time.
During Lembo's tenure as head coach, Lehigh has posted an undefeated regular season, its first ever home playoff win, its first Lambert Cup trophy since 1980, and its first win over a I-A opponent since 1987, while capturing two Patriot League championships. The Mountain Hawks have consistently hovered in the I-AA top 25 for the last five years, peaking as high as number two in September of 2002. No team in all of I-AA has a better winning percentage over the past eight years. Impressive credentials for the second youngest Division I head coach in the nation.
Lembo, 35, recently completed his fifth season as Lehigh head coach and his eighth year in the program overall. He arrived on South Mountain in the summer of 1998, when he was hired by former head coach Kevin Higgins as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. That fall, the Mountain Hawks went 12-1 and finished the season ranked 14th in the nation.
After the 1999 season, where Lehigh finished 10-2, Lembo was promoted to assistant head coach and offensive line coach in addition to his recruiting coordinator duties. When Higgins left to become an assistant with the Detroit Lions after the successful 2000 campaign, Lembo was quickly promoted to become the 27th head coach in the history of the program by Director of Athletics Joe Sterrett.
Pete Lembo has done a truly remarkable job of maintaining what was good in our program, tweaking the things that could be improved, emphasizing the importance of a team approach by the staff and by the players, and of staying focused on the most important things, Sterrett said.
Lembo proved to be ready for the challenge as his 2001 team went 11-1 and finished the year at No. 5 in both I-AA national polls. For his efforts, the rookie coach was awarded the Eddie Robinson trophy as I-AA Coach of the Year, and was also named Patriot League Coach of the Year. At the same time, Lehigh became the first I-AA need-based scholarship program to ever win the prestigious Lambert Cup.
Lembo's gritty 2002 and 2003 teams posted back-to-back eight win campaigns despite an upgraded schedule that included two I-A opponents. In both seasons, the Mountain Hawks knocked off league rival Fordham when the Rams where also ranked in the I-AA top 25. In 2003, the Mountain Hawks posted a 6-1 conference record with an average margin of victory of over 21 points. Lehigh's sole league loss was a tough seven point decision on the road at Colgate, the eventual national championship runner up.
The 2004 edition of the Mountain Hawks surprised many by posting a nine-win season and a 5-1 league record en route to a share of a Patriot League title, and an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs. Though Lehigh lost a heartbreaking 14-13 game to eventual national champion James Madison at Goodman Stadium, the fact that the Mountain Hawks garnered an at-large bid and a home playoff game speaks to the level of respect the program has earned in recent years.
The aggressive scheduling policy instituted by Lembo has made for increased excitement among I-AA football fans in the east. Not only did the Mountain Hawks take two I-A opponents over the last four seasons, but Lehigh has also renewed rivalries with traditional I-AA powerhouses Villanova (in 2004) and Delaware (2005), among others.
The Mountain Hawks success on the field has led to several Lehigh assistants being offered positions at other institutions. In Lembos first four seasons, he had to replace a special teams coach, an offensive coordinator, and two defensive coordinators. Under his guidance, however, the team has not missed a beat and continues to find success in an increasingly competitive Patriot League environment.
Off the field, Lembo has been hard at work to improve the student-athletes bond with one another. He established a leadership council that consists of four team members from each class. The council helps resolve issues within the team and increases communication between the team and the coaching staff. Lembo has also improved alumni relations through a weekly email newsletter. In addition, he has done quite a bit of traveling to meet with alumni in outlying areas as well as in the Lehigh Valley. Within the last few years, Lembo has been the featured speaker on the Lehigh Alumni Associations Midwest Swing, speaking in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago.
In the classroom, the program prides itself on producing not only great football players, but also true scholars. In 2003, wide receiver Dave Crockett was named to the Division I-AA Athletics Directors Academic All-Star Team, the second straight year a Lehigh football player earned such a distinguished honor. In 2002, strong safety Matt Salvaterra earned similar recognition, while also being lauded as the Patriot Leagues Scholar-Athlete of the Year in all sports. In 2001, four student-athletes received honors as Verizon Academic All-District Selections. Lehigh has been in the top 20 nationally in graduation rates for 18 consecutive years.
Not only has Lembo made an impact at Lehigh, but he has become quite active in the football coaching community as well. In May of 2003, Lembo was asked to serve on the American Football Coaches Associations (AFCA) Public Relations Committee. That group is responsible for finding new ways to showcase the game in a positive light. Lembo is also the Patriot Leagues representative to the Division I-AA Coaches Executive Committee, a post he has held since July of 2002.
Lembo came to Lehigh from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he served as the teams offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Prior to his stint with Hampden-Sydney, Lembo coached the tight ends and offensive tackles at Dartmouth College. During this period, Dartmouth enjoyed outstanding success, including the nations longest unbeaten streak in Division I-AA and an undefeated Ivy League Championship season in 1996. Several members of that Dartmouth staff have continued outstanding careers at other institutions.
Pete Lembo came to Lehigh as the recruiting coordinator and running backs coach in 1998. Prior to his third season as an assistant he was named the teams assistant head coach and offensive line coach. In capturing four straight Patriot League Championships, boasting four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and cultivating a winning attitude, Lembo has been an integral part of the championship atmosphere that Lehigh fans and alumni have come to know.
In his first three years as an assistant coach at Lehigh, Lembo coached some of the top running backs and offensive linemen in Lehigh history to very successful careers. In 2000, offensive guard Brian McDonald had an All-American season and offensive tackle John Babb landed a professional contract in the Canadian Football League. In 1999, Ronald Jean turned in an All-American season after spending two years under Lembos guidance. Jean rushed for over 1,000 yards and set Lehigh single season records for scoring with 26 touchdowns, 23 by way of the ground. Lembo also coached Brian Baker, arguably Lehighs best receiving back of the nineties, and Brett Snyder who was one of the best blocking fullbacks in Division I-AA. Lembo is still actively involved with Lehighs offense and coaches the tight ends on a daily basis.
While an assistant at Lehigh, Lembo developed a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the Patriot League. He regularly signed at least ten recruits per year, including some of the teams most productive players.
Lembo began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under legendary coach Bob Ford at the University at Albany. For two years he coached the offensive line and earned a masters degree in public administration from the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs.
As an undergraduate at Georgetown University from 1988-1992, Lembo was a four-year starter and team captain as a member of the offensive line. As a senior, he received the Coaches Award for outstanding leadership from the Georgetown Athletics Department.