Q: Coach Pete Lembo, now that your first year at Ball State is coming to an end, reflect back on the last 12 months?
This first year in Muncie has really moved quickly. The first four or five months were a total whirlwind. Last January was a mad scramble to sign a recruiting class in one month's time. We had a lot of turnover with our support staff early on as well. It is great to have key people like David Feeley (Strength and Conditioning) and Corey Bass (Assistant A.D. for Football Operations) in place now, but initially, it added to the challenge of the transition. Fortunately, we got off on the right foot with the players from the very first team meeting. They embraced the staff from the start. We made it clear we are all in this together. We only had one player decide to transfer out at the end of the spring term, which says quite a bit about the smooth transition. Coach Feeley did an incredible job with the offseason program and each player's confidence improved as they got stronger. The establishment of a summer school bridge program for incoming freshmen was very successful and well received by everyone on campus. We were also able to make some enhancements to the Fisher Football Complex, including renovating the weight room. Personally, I have really enjoyed getting to know people in this community and my family has adjusted well since moving here in June.
Q: The 2011 team exceeded almost everyone's expectations. How do you feel about the results from the fall?
I am sure some people were a little concerned when they considered the coaching transition, the previous attrition to the roster and a very difficult out of conference schedule. One preview magazine actually had us picked 119th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. While I never discuss a particular number of wins for a given team, you always hope you can look back and believe your squad reached its potential. When you consider the schedule, the new coaches, the new systems, the youth in the lineup, the injuries to key players and the strength of the Mid-American Conference West Division this year, we probably overachieved. I was really proud of how we won five close games. Those kind of wins help build a resiliency in your team. It is also good to see we were the least penalized team in the MAC. That says something about the level of discipline in the program. The win over Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium was special as was the lopsided win over Army. I am also pleased we were able to redshirt 15 of 22 scholarship freshmen despite the lack of depth. That will benefit those players and the program in the long term. I am disappointed we did not get selected to a bowl game, but our day will come.
Q: Looking ahead, what are some of the challenges you are facing as you build the program?
Where shall I begin? We are off to a good start, but there is so much work to be done on all fronts! Hopefully, we can keep most of our staff intact. Continuity with assistant coaches and support staff is critical to stabilizing the program. These players here have seen too much change in personnel the last four years. At the same time, I like to see my best assistants get great opportunities to move up the professional ladder. Recruiting is going very well. I am very pleased with the quality of our verbal commitments. We have to finish strong right up through the signing date on February 1st. We are already beginning to work on juniors in high school. What a difference a year makes from a recruiting standpoint. We have to create more internal competition for playing time this offseason. Retaining and developing your players helps to make that happen. We have to keep working with local businesses to expand our summer job and internship program. That is an important facet of player development, especially for the older guys. We need to grow our constituent base, especially in terms of our football alumni. These former players are still part of the team and have a critical role to play in our future. Two young alumni recently joined the Touchdown Club and that was great to see! I have presented a five year business plan to the University administration so we can establish goals for the future in terms of facilities, scheduling, budgets and support for the program. It is going to be a process. It is not going to be a quick fix. There will be some bumps in the road along the way. A big part of my role is to educate everyone involved as to what it will take to build the program the right way. We want this to be a special experience for our student-athletes and we want the program to be a true source of pride for the University population and the Muncie community.