I’m a big fan of Kansas coach Lance Leipold, so I read Bill Connelly’s piece ($$) about how he’s trying to rebuild the program there, perhaps the tallest task in college football. I mean, here’s a quick look at the giants who came before Leipold:
… First came Buffalo coach Turner Gill, hired for his program-building prowess despite his four-year Bills’ tenure, including only one winning season and no SP+ ranking above 97th. He went 5-19.
Then came former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, he of the professed “decided tactical advantage,” whose Florida offense had ranked 57th in offensive SP+ in 2011. His teams went 7-29, and in his impatience, he loaded up on junior college transfers and handed his successor a ticking time bomb of a roster.
That successor? David Beaty, a well-intentioned former Kansas offensive co-coordinator who was regarded primarily as a strong recruiter, but he never had a chance of bringing many four-stars to Lawrence. Dealing with massive player shortages and incapable of developing what he had, he went 6-42.
After all of this came maybe the most inexplicable hire yet: Les Miles. Dismissed from LSU for failing to keep up with the times (his offenses were prehistoric, and he didn’t update them even as Nick Saban and others did), he went 3-18 in two seasons with KU and was fired in March 2021 after accusations of inappropriate behavior at LSU were unearthed. The school went through spring practice under the guidance of interim coach Emmett Jones, then officially hired Leipold on April 30, maybe the single most awkward point on the calendar for bringing in an outsider.
Ugh. Kansas football was essentially a toxic waste site when Leipold was handed the keys.
What I found interesting was that Leipold, much like Kirby Smart, is a big believer in establishing a culture as the rock upon which to build a successful program. The difference, of course, is that it’s one thing to build a culture at a resource-rich environment like Georgia’s, and an entirely different one at a dump like Kansas. But this isn’t Leipold’s first rodeo in that regard.
“We get done with that 2-10 year and we start talking about culture more and researching it more,” Kotelnicki said. “We became very intentional that spring about what culture is — how we install it and, more specifically, how we define it.”
How do you define it?
“It’s when the locker room leads itself,” Leipold said.
“Player-led culture,” strength coach Matt Gildersleeve said.
“Culture is behavior,” Kotelnicki said. “We try to install it with our kids, kind of like a playbook.”
“Go back to when Lance and I worked for Coach [Barry] Alvarez at Wisconsin,” general manager Rob Ianello said. “The buzzword ‘culture’ was not what you used — it was, ‘This is how we do things. This is how we’re gonna win.’ We’ve done a really good job of defining what our culture is to our team, teaching it to them and demanding it.”
With proper expectation and accountability in place, Buffalo began to win. The Bulls rose to 6-6 in 2017, then to 10-4 with a MAC East title in 2018. Despite losing quite a few key pieces, they won eight games and scored the program’s first ever bowl win in 2019, and in the pandemic-shortened 2020, with experience levels again high, they went 6-1, won another MAC East title and finished ranked in the AP poll for the first time.
“When you say ‘player-led culture’ … it takes time,” Gildersleeve said. “You have to get those guys comfortable doing what you ask, but it’s also getting teammates comfortable hearing it from a peer, not a coach. That’s a whole ‘nother layer of complexity. But [by 2020] it was to the point where I was almost bored — I was just coaching technique and stuff, and I wasn’t coaching culture because before I could ever get a coaching cue out of my mouth, there were six seniors doing it for me.”
I hope what worked before works again. Kansas is never going to become a CFP contender, but becoming a competitive D-1 program would be a helluva reworking, considering how lifeless KU football has been. Leipold has the background to give his efforts credibility, so we’ll see if his hire pays off.
14 responses to ““Guys needed to see some fruits of their labor.””
So he’s the reason Texas can’t get over the Kansas hump. (Heh heh)
I’ve been a big fan of Leipold’s since his crazily successful run at UW-Whitewater (yes, that is the name of the city there) in southeastern Wisconsin. That was his alma mater, in fact. He had an overall record at Whitewater of 109 wins, 6 losses and included 6 D-III National Championships and 7 conference championships in 8 seasons at the helm.
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He’s no Larry Kehres tho.
He’s not. He beat Kehres 3 of the 4 times that they faced each other — 2009 through 2011, losing only the first time they faced off in 2008.
Larry goes to 11.
Fan1995, same here…he had a hell of a run in Div3…what’s also sad is what a NCAA DIV 3 National Championship Trophy looks like…it’s a plaque.
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Glen Mason, where for art thou?
We were really lucky to escape that one.
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Funny thing is that Mark Mangino managed to pull off winning there in a big way. Steadily increased the win total up to a top ten ranking & 12-1 record in 2007.
The facilities are now so far behind as to leave the school even below FCS level. But that run of coaches after Fat Man v.1 is definitely the stuff of some kind of legend.
Problem for KU is that with any further success, Texas hires him away to avoid the loss.
To become a stepping stone job would be a huge improvement for Kansas.
Culture is should a hard thing to describe. It is almost impossible for a coach to teach. When I was at Ga. many damn years ago, I remember one thing that will always stand out to me. I will try to explain it to you guys, just remember this is 1966-67 kids were different then. After eating every might we would go to some one’s room and shoot the shit for maybe an hour. One bull session Steve Greer was sitting in and I stated that we were getting killed at practice. He said that this is no loner a game and you are graded on 2 hours of work each day, so give them that 2 hours at 100% and everything else will take care of itself. That is something only another respected player can tell a new guy. A coach can’t get that across to a 17 year old dumbass. That is CULTURE. At least it is to me. A senior taking the time to talk to 6 or 7 freshmen and giving very good advice. You can’t coach that.
There were other thing and other men that loved UGA football, but that 1 bull session really stands out. I guess you had to be there.
Good luck Kansas. Hope you have some players like Steve.
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I enjoy hearing the behind the scenes stories about the Dawgs. Thanks for sharing, whb!
Anybody who thinks a coach or teacher can single-handedly get a roomful of teenage boys to do right has never coached or taught. You need your best/most senior players/students to set the example every practice/game/class. It ain’t boring, though. I know Leipold is joking, but good student/player leadership in a classroom/locker room is a beautiful thing.