Richardson: Lebo The Clear Choice For The Job

Auburn University president Ed Richardson comments on why Jeff Lebo was the pick as Auburn's new basketball coach.

Auburn, Ala.--Dr. Ed Richardson said there would be a long-term commitment made in hiring Auburn's new men's basketball coach. The university's interim president backed up his pledge on Thursday when Jeff Lebo was given a seven-year contract to lead the AU program.

Lebo was introduced on Thursday as Auburn's new head coach to replace Cliff Ellis, who Richardson fired three weeks ago.

Richardson says that Auburn will pay Lebo, the former University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Tennessee Tech head coach, $750,000 a year to run the Tigers' program. The Auburn president says that he believes that Lebo is the right man to make the Tigers one of the top basketball powers in the SEC, but adds that he believes that new coach deserves plenty of time to get the program on the right track.

Richardson says the decision came down to two candidates--Lebo and Jeff Capel of Virginia Commonwealth. Capel came to the AU campus on Monday for an interview and Lebo interviewed at AU on Wednesday. Mike Anderson of UAB, who associate athletic director Hal Baird interviewed in San Antonio last week, was also one of the primary targets of the Auburn search, but he declined to come to campus for a followup interview with the AU president, Richardson says.

"We strongly considered two of those candidates--Mike Anderson of UAB and, of course, we had Jeff Capel down here," Richardson says. "In fact, the reason this (announcement of Lebo as new head coach) was set up so suddenly is that Jeff (Capel) and his wife were to come back today (Thursday) and visit and that is why I asked this Jeff (Lebo) to wait until we could have that visit.

"Mr. Capel decided not to come today," Richardson adds. "He was very impressive--a young coach who has a Duke background and that sort of thing. Mr. Anderson did not want to come here. He is a great coach. He has always been in our top three, but he did not want to come here and talk to me unless I wanted to offer him a contract first. I just couldn't do that so that is really it in a nutshell.

"Coach Lebo is the only person we offered to the job to," Richardson adds. "I was very pleased he accepted."

Dr. Ed Richardson

Richardson notes that he had planned to make a decision on choosing either Capel or Lebo after Capel made a second trip to campus on Thursday, but on Wednesday night Capel called associate athletic director Hal Baird, the point man on the search, and took his name out of the mix. AU then contacted Lebo to offer him the job and the UTC coach accepted and told his team that he was leaving at a Thursday morning meeting before heading to Auburn to start his new job. "It had got down to the two of them," Richardson says. "We had not made an offer. We had told Coach Lebo we would wait until the next visit. He knew who it was and then we would make a decision.

"I am going to tell you, if you are looking at Coach Lebo, when he came in he had a much more comprehensive explanation of our program, what it needed and what ideas he wanted to do," Richardson says. "The fact that he took two programs--Tennessee Tech and Chattanooga--and turned those around there is a proof there. All of us can fluff up our resumes, but there is a proof there you cannot deny. I am just really pleased he is here. I think he is going to get off to a really good start."

Richardson says that Lebo passed the president's four criteria for the coaching job and did it in grand style. Number one, Lebo is considered an excellent coach with a proven track record, Richardson says. Number two, Lebo is totally committed to running a clean program that should not be subject to further NCAA sanctions, which is an important issue, Richardson says. Number three, he graduates his players, which is already a strong point of the AU program, Richardson notes. Number four, Lebo was willing to make a long-term commitment to bring the program to respectability, which Richardson says he defines as not being the same as "mediocrity."

"This is the coach," Richardson adds. "There is no doubt in my mind about it. We looked at all of the people who applied that we thought were qualified and for the reasons I identified here we are today. There is no question in my mind this is the coach who should have been selected."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Richardson made it very clear on Thursday that UAB's Mike Anderson had no chance at the job when the coach's agent demanded that Richardson meet with Anderson in Birmingham rather than come to campus. "One of the candidates (Anderson) asked that I go to him," Richardson says. "That is just not the way it works in my opinion." Richardson adds that it is important to him that the candidate spend time on campus and get a feel for the university and be up front in his interest about the job...Richardson says the unresolved NCAA case made hiring a coach more difficult. He notes that he agreed with Lebo to make his seven-year contract an eight-year deal if AU receives what the president calls serious sanctions such as a postseason ban...Lebo's father is already on the job as an assistant coach at AU and the new coach will hire two more assistants. He says he will consider current members of AU's staff...Lebo met with Auburn's current players on Thursday immediately after the press conference announcing his decision to come to AU...The new head coach says that a variety of Auburn people he knows in Chattanooga and elsewhere help persuade him to take the job and he got similar advice from fellow coaches, but in the end it came down to a "gut feeling" that Auburn was right for him after turning down jobs at Iowa State and Virginia Tech last year...Marco Killingsworth, Brandon Robinson and Lewis Monroe said on Thursday evening that all of the current team members are planning on returning...Dr. Richardson notes that Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith, who coached Lebo who was a standout player at the University of North Carolina, gave the Chattanooga coach the highest recommendation possible and that had a lot of influence with the AU president and Baird, who recommended to Richardson that Lebo be offered the job.


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