Lance Leipold is 106-6. One-oh-six and six.
Yes, he has plenty to prove as the new head coach at the University at Buffalo, since he’s making the big jump from Division III to the top level of college football. He may turn out to have shortcomings; most people do.
But his record says, without a doubt, he knows how to coach.
UB Athletic Director Danny White said getting a proven commodity was a top priority.
“This team is ready to win, and we feel like ready to win now,” White said Monday in introducing Leipold as the school’s 25th football coach. “As a result, as I went through this process, I wasn’t out there selling a rebuilding effort. I was out there talking about the character and talent we have in our program and really looking at and targeting successful head coaches, proven head coaches that have won.”
Because he hired Bobby Hurley for the men’s basketball job, White was expected by many to try to make “a splash” by hiring someone with a name like “Michigan,” “Duke,” “South Carolina” or “Florida” at the top of their resume.
Someone in that category, even if they could have been wooed, probably was going to be young and without the experience of running a total program.
“I was not too interested in looking for folks with a learning curve,” White said. “So that was the coach we looked at most closely. Coach Leipold was at the top of that list very early in the process.”
“His 106-6 winning record is just astonishing,” White said.
After firing Jeff Quinn five weeks ago, White said he likes coaches with “a high level of credibility and profile in their sport.”
Leipold may not be a household name outside of his native Wisconsin, but his credentials give him a lofty status in football.
It took him 106 games to get 100 wins, faster than any coach in NCAA history at any level. He has won five NCAA Division III titles in seven years, and he’s working on a sixth. His Whitewater team is in the D-III quarterfinals. Leipold will keep coaching the Warhawks until they’re finished – another three weeks if they win the title. He’s 31-1 in the postseason.
Leipold is an offensive-minded coach whose teams have averaged 36.3 ppg over eight seasons. His quarterback, Matt Behrendt, threw 40 touchdown passes and one interception last season. This year Behrendt has 32 TDs and four INTs.
Those statistics bring a smile to the face of UB quarterback Joe Licata, who just finished his junior season with a school-record 29 TD passes.
“Those are some good numbers,” Licata said. “From the guys I’ve talked to that have played against him, they seem to think he’s got a great relationship with his players, and I think that’s going to make a huge positive impact on our team.”
Whitewater has some built-in advantages. It’s a school of 11,000 students in a town of only 14,390. But it’s in the southeastern part of the state, within a two-hour drive of Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. That’s a large population base. There are a lot of good players in its backyard. What’s more, the University of Wisconsin is the only school in the state that offers football scholarships.
Whitewater has 71 players from Wisconsin, 27 from Illinois and one each from Indiana, Iowa and Michigan.
Leipold may lure some players to UB from Wisconsin and Chicago. But he will have to prove he can quickly develop high school contacts in Ohio, Michigan, New York and, most importantly, Florida. Or he will have to hire someone with those contacts.
“That’s got to be proven,” he acknowledges. “You have to just go out and like anybody, you have to prove yourself. That’s why you hire assistants, there’s a staff that does a lot of that early stuff. … That’s a part we’re going to work hard at.”
There’s not a lot of rah-rah in Leipold. He’s not an in-your-face personality. He’s understated, but he has a presence. He’s also the son of a coach. Influencing young men is his life.
“Most importantly, he’s likable,” White said. “There’s a lot of different ways to be likable. Some people can be really outgoing and bold but likable. I think in his way, he’s likable. … I think he has great interpersonal skills, and in coaching that’s really, really important. He’s a great conversationalist. From what I could tell, he’s good at reading people. He’s a good listener.”
“You have to be aggressive in recruiting,” Leipold said. “You need to be thorough. Most importantly, once you make the evaluation, when you deal with student athletes, you have to talk about what the opportunities are on the field and off the field. This is not just a four-year experience. This is going to be a 40-plus year experience for them, and this university can open doors for those student athletes after they leave here. I think when they see that, they’ll be as excited as I am.”
Leipold, 50, played quarterback for Whitewater. He has some experience at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. He worked as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 1991 to 1993. He worked as a recruiting assistant at Nebraska from 2001 to 2003. He went from Lincoln, Neb., to Division II Nebraska-Omaha before taking the Whitewater head job in 2007.
Former UB coach Turner Gill was assistant head coach at Nebraska when Leipold worked there.
“About 11 months ago at the national convention last year in Indianapolis I ran into Turner Gill,” Leipold said. “I wanted some professional advice on things; what made him do some of the moves he made, some thought process.”
“He came to the part of taking the job here,” Leipold said, referring to UB. “The more he looked and thought about it, he thought of how special it became. When this job opened, and I was asked if I would have interest, I quickly reflected back to that conversation. Turner’s a man I’ve always respected. I took his advice that you need to look.”
White said he had a 3½ hour initial meeting with Leipold about a month ago. They kept in contact. White called Leipold on Saturday and asked him to come to town. He accepted the job on Sunday. Leipold was making $100,000 at Whitewater. The average Mid-American Conference head football coach salary is about $400,000.
Leipold had other chances to leave Whitewater. He had been wooed by Austin Peay, Gardner-Webb and Southeast Missouri, according to Wisconsin media reports. Montana reportedly was interested this month.
Why Buffalo? White sold him on the potential of UB, in just its 16th year at the FBS level.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity, and it’s ready to take off,” Leipold said. “It’s going to take some work on the program. We gotta find a way to get a few more wins.”
“I looked at the fact they’ve won a championship,” Leipold said, referring to UB’s MAC crown in 2008. “So it can be done. It’s not like you don’t have a chance. That’s a tribute to what Turner did. And they had eight wins last year.”
Leipold likes Buffalo’s Midwestern sensibility, the friendly people. He sees Buffalo, in ways, as a bigger Omaha, his wife’s hometown. The program in Omaha was in the shadow of the University of Nebraska. UB is in the shadow of the Bills.
“I saw the value of sometimes what being in a city can still do for a football program,” he said. “Yeah there’s a lot of options, things to do. But it depends on how you look at it. I saw it as a positive. Then when Danny explained what the hopes and goals are here to keep growing as a university, that’s what really helped put it over the top.”