Dzwierzynski: Jayhawks nail can’t-miss hire with Leipold

If you haven’t heard of Lance Leipold yet, you’re probably not paying attention.

You must have missed when he was eviscerating the competition at the Division III level, winning six national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Maybe MAC football isn’t your thing, which would explain why you missed Leipold leading the Buffalo Bulls, a program that rarely makes a national mark, to an overall winning record in six years, not to mention a 24-10 record and three bowl appearances in the last three seasons.

If you’re not a big fan of polls, you may not have noticed that he led the Bulls to a top-25 spot in the final AP Top 25 poll this past season for the first time in program history.

You may not know about him, but Kansas Athletics sure does.

He’s the new Jayhawks coach, officially inking him to a six-year contract on Friday morning.

For the Kansas program and Kansas fans alike, this is a reason for excitement and a reason for hope.

We all know the story of the Jayhawks of the last decade plus. Following Mark Mangino’s ouster in 2009 it’s been a steady stream of disappointment at best, unmitigated disaster at worst.

Turner Gill, another Buffalo hire, made sense but was ultimately not cut out for the role. Charlie Weis was loathed by fans, student media and players alike. David Beaty was hired on the cheap and is a picture-perfect example of getting what you pay for. Les Miles was hired with jubilance and fanfare only to leave shortly thereafter under a cloud of letdown and disgust.

Not even the most annoying attempt at a “Positive Vibes Only” mindset can erase that slew of misery.

Leipold truly breaks the mold, though. He’s a long-time proven winner and a program builder. It doesn’t matter at what level you’re coaching, winning six national championships in eight years is insane to comprehend. So is generating a winning record over six years at a program in Buffalo that, prior to his hiring in 2015, had an all-time winning percentage of .425.

KU isn’t going for the big-name splash, like claiming that “the best” you could find was Notre Dame burnout Weis or bringing in a washed -up Miles (who, disgusting off-field behavior aside, did at least rejuvenate the KU roster despite barely winning at all).

The Jayhawks also aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel because they have no other options like they did with the Beaty hiring.

Those in the know have known Leipold was a target from the very beginning, which is a clear indication that KU actually got this hiring process right. You don’t need a big name from a big program whose best days are from almost a decade ago.

Leipold is well-versed in building a program and finding success where you otherwise wouldn’t find it. He’s probably not going to win you a press conference, which may be a good omen for KU after multiple hires where that was just about all the winning a coach did.

He’s a grinder. He’s somewhat old school in that regard. He’s here to coach football and coach it well. That should have been the only and only goal for KU, to find someone who just knows what they’re doing and can outwork the rest of the field to find success.

In all reality, the Jayhawks couldn’t fail with their two finalists for the coaching job. Essentially every reputable outlet knew it was down to Leipold or Army’s Jeff Monken, who also would have been a home run hire, whether you feel emotional about the triple option or not.

KU should be hopeful for winning football, but also for entertaining football, even if it’s not always a high-flying act. Patrick Mayhorn broke down Leipold’s Buffalo offense for his excellent Outside Zone newsletter. You can see right away why KU would be entranced by him.

The Jayhawks are going to run the ball. They’re going to run it a lot. Not a terrible plan when you consider the top-rated recruit in Kansas history, Lawrence’s own Devin Neal in this year’s recruiting class, is a running back.

When Kansas Athletics hired Travis Goff to be its new director of athletics, the mission, like it’s been for three athletic directors in a row now, was to fix Jayhawks football. Find a way to turn around the worst program in the Power 5. This move doesn’t guarantee that will happen, but it should be the best chance KU has had in what feels like an eternity to finally bounce back from years upon years of futility.

There’s a lot of work to be done in Lawrence. Roster attrition is inevitable when a new coach is hired, even when the hire is this good. Some talent is in place but there’s more that needs to be pumped in. The job chews you up and spits you out (Gill is the only KU coach of the last four to get another full-time coaching job following their turn leading the Jayhawks).

If anyone is up for the task, though, it’s a man who’s done it before. Someone who’s rebuilt a program and found rousing success with it. Someone who’s won “the big one” over and over again.

That’s Lance Leipold. KU couldn’t afford to miss on this hire. It didn’t.