'Humbled' Lance Leipold expects to 'win championships' with Kansas football
“Wow,” said Leipold, speaking Monday morning at his introductory news conference held inside the team’s indoor practice facility.
That exclamation proved the only word Leipold would utter during the 10-second pause he took at the outset of his opening remarks. When the moment passed, though, Leipold wasted no further time getting right into the swing of things.
Leipold, who KU plucked away from Buffalo last Friday with a six-year, $16.5 million contract, touched on a number of topics in his first official question-and-answer session as leader of the long-suffering Jayhawk football program. And he wasn’t short on newsworthy responses on several of those subjects — the importance of retaining current KU players; his plans for putting together a coaching staff; his goals for Year 1 and beyond in what he hopes to be a long and productive stint in Lawrence.
But before any of that, the native of Jefferson, Wis. — population 7,991 — wanted to make crystal clear just how “truly humbled and honored” he is to be in this position.
“Dreams are one thing and reality is another,” Leipold said, “and somehow those two have meshed here today.”
With that on the record, it was time for Leipold to get to work.
Lance Leipold's goal for Kansas football: 'Win championships'
Hired in no small part because of his impeccable résumé — he went 24-10 and made three straight bowl game appearances in the final three seasons of his six-year run at lowly Buffalo and before that went 109-6 with six national championship wins in eight seasons with Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater — Leipold said “daily improvement” will be the expectation for his first campaign with the Jayhawks.
“When we continue to go through the daily process of improvement and establishing what we want to be, the wins and losses are going to take care of themselves,” Leipold said. “This is a unique situation. We all know that. The timing is definitely different than what is the norm. As we get ready to work with these young men, those things will start taking place. I’m very confident that you’re going to see consistency and improvement throughout the season.”
Leipold put no ceiling on his more long-term objectives for the program.
“The goal is to win championships, pure and simple,” Leipold said. “One day a time. Become a consistent winner. Attention to detail. Do it with great energy, passion and effort. It’s not overly complicated. It’s going to take some work.”
Leipold takes over from Les Miles
Leipold's first true test as leader of KU football will actually come in the offseason.
Taking over a program of players that signed letters of intent when Les Miles was head coach and a group that throughout the spring was outspoken in its support of interim head coach Emmett Jones, Leipold may need to prove his mettle as a recruiter early on by convincing those already here to stick with him and buy into his vision. In his first conversation with those players, Leipold asked them to simply “keep an open mind.”
“A lot of those young men want to play in the NFL. I asked them if they’d get to pick their coach (in the NFL),” Leipold said. “Change happens in the real world. That’s unfortunate. They did not choose for what has happened. But as soon as we get a chance to sit down (they will) find out that we will have their best interest in mind, we will get them to reach their goals, we want to help them get there on and off the field. ...
“As I told them, our plan is to win and win with the players that are here right now. This isn’t a situation where we’re going to look for when we get ‘our players’ in. I said the same thing at the last job and I feel very strongly about that. This university and this athletic department has made a commitment to these young men and we want them to be here to develop and be part of that.”
Leipold on Monday didn’t specifically commit to keeping Jones, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord nor any other coaching holdover that served under Miles, who on March 8 agreed to a buyout of the three remaining years of his contract amid resurfaced allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from his tenure at LSU. Leipold did, however, state his belief that one of KU’s biggest hinderances across its decade-plus stretch of futility has been a lack of continuity at every level of the coaching staff.
Leipold said he spent all day Sunday having conversations with current KU assistant coaches, classifying some as “great” while acknowledging those discussions “aren’t always easy.” Determining whether someone is a "fit holistically" for his coaching staff will be paramount as he evaluates the current situation, he added.
“This isn’t for one season. We are going to put together a staff for the future,” said Leipold, 56. “(It goes) back to ... continuity and consistency. So as we look to putting our staff together, it’s not just to get us through Season 1. That happens sometimes in college football. Part of the success is having consistency in the room day-in and day-out for our student-athletes."
AD Travis Goff: Leipold a 'winner' and 'ideal fit' for Kansas football
Leipold wasn’t the only individual to speak Monday.
Athletic director Travis Goff, who himself has only been on the job for a month, glowed when talking about his newest colleague. He described Leipold as a “winner,” “program builder,” “developer of young men” and “ideal fit” for KU.
“All I can say to our Jayhawk fans, our Jayhawk faithful is, we’ve got the right guy. There’s just no question,” Goff said. “That’s based on who he is as a man and that’s based on an incredibly well-built, proven track record of success and program building and care for the young men that he leads, which has been well-documented every step of the way.”