Lebo: "This Is Where I Wanted To Coach"

New Auburn men's basketball coach Jeff Lebo talks about what it takes to win at Auburn and his style of coaching.

Auburn, Ala.--Jeff Lebo had seen this circus before. Just last year Iowa State came calling the 37-year old coaching phenom from Pennsylvania by way of North Carolina, but the UT-Chattanooga coach said thanks, but no thanks.

Lebo had also turned down a job to coach at another big-time program at Virginia Tech.

The talented coach said he was in no rush leave what he called a good job in Chattanooga, but that changed when Auburn's Hal Baird came calling just a few weeks ago.

With Lebo and his wife becoming big fans of the South since leaving Chapel Hill in the early 1990s, Lebo benefitted from asssistant coaching stops at Vanderbilt and South Carolina before taking his first head coaching job at Tennessee Tech. Six years and one stop later Lebo is making another move. This one back into the Southeastern Conference, a move the former point guard said he's looking forward to making.

"I'm familiar with this area in the Southeast and I've been in schools in the Southeast," Lebo said. "I have recruited the Southeast and I feel comfortable down here. I have been in the league and I'm familiar with that. In my gut I just felt like this was right for me and I have always trusted my gut with the decisions I've made and I believe again this is a great place. I'm excited to be here and just felt, from the beginning, that this is where I wanted to coach.

"It's just a fantastic day for me and for my wife and obviously my father is here with me," Lebo added. "With some background in this league this is something as a basketball player and coach, something that you always dream about having happen to you at some point. I'm excited to be here. Excited to start. It has been a whirlwind few days and I'm happy to be here."

Known for his ability to build programs from ruins into contenders in a short time, Lebo will once again be tested with the job at Auburn in the coming years. With NCAA problems still yet to be resolved and a big hole in class size coming in two years, Lebo said that it could take time to get back on track. Still the coach said that doesn't keep you from doing things the way you've been taught and always done them.

"There has to be a degree of patience," Lebo said. "I think everybody knows the state of the program. There are obviously some issues, but some great opportunities for a lot of people. I feel bad for those players right now. They've been in limbo and when you talk about a basketball program they are the most important things. I know they've been through a tough time.

"What's very important to me is that we do this the right way," Lebo added. "It's going to take some time. That's what I'm used to and that's how I've been trained. I've been fortunate to work and play for Dean Smith, who I learned so much from, but also Eddie Fogler who has won SEC Championships at two places that you don't win many SEC Championships in basketball at Vanderbilt and South Carolina. I have been fortunate to be around good people both playing and coaching and I know what it takes to do it the right way."

Jeff Lebo speaks at his press conference on Thursday.

While the long-term future is a little cloudy, next season has a chance to be a good one with seven seniors returning including All-SEC performer Marco Killingsworth at forward. Lebo said that the first year might be one to build on if things go the right way.

"We've got some players coming back here," Lebo said. "We've got a lot of seniors that have been through some of the wars. As I look at it years two or three may be the years with inexperienced players that will be a little rockier than even year one."

The first job for Lebo is to put together a staff at Auburn. One position has already been filled as his father Dave Lebo will be joining him on the Plains from Chattanooga. After that Lebo said he's open to candidates, but hopes to have things done before too much time has elapsed in spring signing period.

"I'm going to bring my father along," Lebo said. "One of my assistants I will probably bring along, but he will be a candidate for the job there at Chattanooga. I'll be working the next two weeks trying to fill those positions. I will talk to everybody (including current Auburn assistants)."

The coaches Lebo will search for are going to be well-versed in the style of up-tempo basketball because that's what Lebo said is his game. Although he played the methodical style of play at North Carolina, Auburn's new coach said his style of coaching is much different than the Tar Heel way he grew up on.

"The way I like to play is fast," Lebo said. "We usually are in the Top 20 in scoring. We like to utilize the three-point line. As I look at the team we have now we're not going to be particularly big so we'll have to play a little differently. Maybe small and shoot a lot of threes. We like to play a fast-paced game.

"I think the kids like to play that way and the fans like to watch that. I like to coach that way. Whether we can do that this year, I'll have to get a feel for our personnel, but that's the way we like to play. I like to win and I'll win 2-0 if I have to, but I would rather win a game 88-82 than win one 46-41. That's my philosophy."

Jeff Lebo speaks at his press conference.

Something that many Auburn fans had problems with during the Cliff Ellis era was the lack of tough games in the out-of-conference schedule. Known for playing the big boys on the road at both Tennessee Tech and UTC, Lebo said you can bank on Auburn playing at least a couple of big games each pre-conference schedule.

"I think it's all relative to your team," Lebo said. "I think as your team gets better your schedule needs to improve. That's kind of been my philosophy...we're going to play some good people. When you look at the RPI a lot of it is built into the league in the SEC, but you want to play a couple of good games. Traditionally that's what everybody is doing. The scheduling thing has really changed over the years. I think people are playing better games now, but they're playing in these tournaments on neutral sites. You don't see the big guys really playing road games early."

Saying that he's happy with the facilities at Auburn after where he's been the last six years, Lebo talked about what it would take to win on the Plains. Saying fan support and the atmosphere inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum would be very important to the program in the coming years, Lebo said that he believes Auburn has everything it takes to be successful on the hardwood for years to come.

"I think it can be very good," Lebo said. "I think all the pieces are in place. You have resources here to be good and you've had years where you've been good. I think in this area in the Southeast there are a lot of good players. There are a lot of good players across the country. You could see that in the NCAA games. This league is very marketable and that's exciting. I think it's very attractive to anybody that's interested in playing big-time basketball."

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