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Perry, Fleming familiar with ECU’s coaching situation

GREENVILLE — The East Carolina Pirates are navigating rough waters. Jeff Lebo, in his eighth year coaching the team, announced last week his resignation. It’s a difficult transition to make, but one that interim head coach Michael Perry has done before.

Perry took over head-coaching duties in a similar way last season when Lebo had hip surgery. The Pirates had one American Athletic Conference win when he took over for the final 14 games. He helped lead them to five more league victories and a near upset of Southern Methodist in the second round of the AAC tournament.

Prior to joining ECU’s staff, Perry was the head coach at Georgia State for five seasons. He was promoted from his assistant role after the retirement of “Lefty” Driesell.

“It isn’t my first rodeo,” Perry said. “When I became head coach — I’ll never forget because it was like with coach Lebo — (Driesell), I’ll never forget, he called me on New Year’s Day and said, ‘I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore. You’ve got it.’ And then I took over.

“That experience certainly does come in handy in terms of being able to help with the transition from one voice to another for the kids. That’s the biggest transition for them.”

Interim head coach Michael Perry comes off the court after ECU’s win over UNC-Wilmington.

Pirate point guard Isaac Fleming also has experience with situations like these.

“I felt like I was going through my freshman year at Hawaii when coach Gib Arnold resigned,” he said. “Our assistant coach stepped up as the head coach. I’ve never been on a college team where the head coach stayed. He got fired or resigned.

“Back to square one, but at the same time, in my head, I’ve got something to prove. A lot of people probably think that since he’s gone that our team is going to go down the hill. No, no, no, no, no. We’re going to keep fighting.”

If ECU has done anything in the two game since Lebo’s departure, it’s fight. The Pirates overcame UNC-Wilmington in overtime and scooted past Delaware State on Saturday. The two wins to start the new era leveled their record at 4-4.

As tumultuous as the week has been, it’s seemed to ignite something in the players. They’ve expressed emotions ranging from disappointment to anger to sadness. There’s still plenty of uncertainty ahead, too. All indications lead to the rest of this season being a sort of tryout for Perry as head coach.

“I feel like he can be the head coach in the future,” senior guard B.J. Tyson said after Thursday’s win over the Seahawks. “These guys, we go through a lot. With Lebo stepping down and now you’ve got Perry coming up and taking that challenge … with him doing that, it shows us a lot of pride.”

The waters will only get rougher for the Pirates. Two of their last three non-conference games are against in-state foes. ECU begins AAC action at Tulsa on Dec. 28.

The program’s situation is a tough one to navigate. It will get a little easier now that the dust is settling, and it helps to have players and coaches who have experienced similar circumstances.