Baird Says Lebo "The Best" Choice

Auburn, Ala.--Hal Baird, the man Auburn president Dr. Ed Richardson entrusted with leading the search for a new men's basketball coach, said he believes the Tigers hit their target squarely with the hiring of Tennessee-Chattanooga coach Jeff Lebo.

Baird, associate athletic director and special assistant to interim president Richardson, said he used a checklist of 15 qualities he was looking for in Auburn's new head coach. "Jeff, at the end, just really met them all," Baird said on Thursday after Auburn introduced Lebo as the 19th men's basketball coach in school history.

"I think there were a number of really good candidates here who could have been competitive and won and been successful, but in the final analysis I thought he was the best," Baird adds.

Baird notes that Lebo, a four-year starter at North Carolina for legendary coach Dean Smith, was given a glowing recommendation by Smith. "Coach Smith did talk with the president," Baird said. "I guess we are part of the Carolina basketball family in some regard, and that is not bad company to be in. Coach Smith was extremely complimentary about Jeff to the president. Being the winningest basketball coach of all-time is not a bad reference to have."

Lebo and Virginia Commonwealth head coach Jeff Capel both interviewed on the Auburn campus this week. UAB head coach Mike Anderson interviewed with Baird last week in San Antonio.

"All of the other ones we looked at seriously would have been very, very successful here and got great evaluations and marks across the board," Baird said. "It's just in the final analysis that Jeff emerged for lots of reasons. His reasons speak for themselves as did the others. They were all really, really good candidates and would have done well here."

Jeff Lebo addresses the crowd at his first Auburn press conference.

Lebo has six years of experience as a college head coach and has posted a 115-63 record with four seasons at Tennessee Tech in the Ohio Valley Conference and two at Tennessee-Chattanooga in the Southern Conference. He also has coaching experience in the SEC as an assistant at both Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

Baird will now focus on hiring a replacement for women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi, who is retiring after 25 years on the job at AU. He is the only head coach the Tigers have had for women's basketball since the NCAA began sponsoring it as an intercollegiate sport during the 1981-82 season.

"We are going right into the women's search real quick," Baird said. "It is real urgent. There is a time-line on these things. We have to be quick and decisive. I am ready to get into that. If we can do as well as this one, I think Auburn will be well served."

Richardson made the hire for the men's coaching vacancy he created by firing Cliff Ellis and the president will have the final call on who will replace Ciampi. "The same procedure will be followed next week on hiring a women's coach," Richardson says. "We expect them to come here and we are going to talk to hopefully some very outstanding women's coaches. I am looking forward to starting that."

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