LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lance Leipold has gone from quite possibly the lowest rung of college football to the highest.
Well, sort of.
The new coach at Kansas learned the finer points of coaching at wayward football outposts such as Doane, an NAIA school in Crete, and Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II school that later cut its program entirely.
Sure, there were brief stops as an assistant at Nebraska and Wisconsin early in his career. But until making the leap to the Division I level with Buffalo in 2015, Leipold had spent many more seasons at places such as Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six national titles and compiled a 109-6 record during eight seasons as the head coach.
“When you're coaching lower levels, any new job, there are new things — new ways to do it — but there's still core things,” Leipold said Monday during an introductory news conference three days after he was hired by the Jayhawks. “Expectations and direction and how you're going to go about it are always the same.”
What's not the same? The magnitude of the job ahead of him.
The 56-year-old Leipold has reached the pinnacle of college football's hierarchy with a Power Five job in the Big 12, but it happens to be at arguably the worst program in the nation. Kansas has been to four bowl games in the past 26 years, hasn't had a winning season since 2008 and has won seven conference games total over the past dozen seasons.
The Jayhawks also are coming off a winless COVID-19-shortened season, losing all nine games and most in lopsided fashion. It was such a debacle that the results alone probably warranted the firing of then-coach Les Miles, who wound up parting with the school instead amid accusations of sexual harassment from his time at LSU.
The on-the-field results are daunting enough. There is also the long shadow cast by the Jayhawks' powerhouse basketball program, the general apathy among fans that has set in over the past decade and the decrepit football stadium that serves as a reminder of just how far behind the program is right now.
These are all obstacles that Leipold did not have to overcome at Wisconsin-Whitewater or Buffalo, even though he took both of those programs from mediocrity to heights unknown before his arrival.
“Everyone should know a little bit about history,” Leipold acknowledged, “but you can't spend time worrying about the past. The biggest thing I've been able to research is the potential and what a great place this is.”
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