Lance Leipold calmly strolled to the lectern after the game Saturday and began with an opening statement that must have sounded like his post-game comments following his 73-7 victory over Waldorf. Presumably, you remember the blowout that kicked off the 2012 season for Wisconsin-Whitewater.
It was a nice way to start the season, he said. He was pleased with how his players responded to a shaky start. It was good to see them establish a running game. He was happy for players who made their college debuts. It's going to be a learning curve, but the win gave his team something to build upon.
Let me remind you that Leipold spent 28 years in the bushes, paying his dues and mastering his craft with the idea he might become a Division I coach someday. He was 23 years old when he took his first job as an assistant at Wisconsin-Whitewater and was a Division III coach for most of his career.
Finally, at age 51, he was given an opportunity.
Yet he couldn't crack a smile?
“That's not how I roll,” Leipold said. “I'm very pleased with the victory. As I told our team, I hope that the focus can now go on the football team. It's not about one coach or one player. It's going to take everybody to get this thing done. I'm pleased. I'm happy. I'm still flattered by this opportunity.”
And you believe him.
Leipold isn't boring or unemotional. He cares deeply about winning. He's understated and humble. He's not like some Division I coaches who come off like they invented football and are entitled to a job. He genuinely appreciates the opportunity. He's obsessed with building a successful program.
Joe Licata went out of his way to publicly thank UB athletic director Danny White for hiring Leipold. You could hear the cheers through the walls of the UB locker room after their 51-14 victory over Albany when they gave Leipold the game ball. Matt Weiser made a point to say the Bulls were more prepared than any time in his career.
All are good signs for UB.
Leipold should have been happy with their performance Saturday. In his first game, UB set a record for most points in an opener since returning to Division I. The Bulls' defense had two interceptions, matching their total from last season. They even returned a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 2002.
If he sounded like it was just another rout, that's because it was – for him.
Leipold won six national championships and lost only six games over eight seasons while coaching a D-III powerhouse at Whitewater. Most remarkable about his gaudy 109-6 record was that three losses came in one season. He hasn't lost a game since Oct. 27, 2012, and ran his winning streak to 33 games Saturday.
UB has had one winning season since 2008, their best season since returning to Division I football. The Bulls would need six-plus seasons, back to the Turner Gill days, to count their last 33 victories. They lost as many games last season as Leipold lost in his career at Whitewater.
“This has been a fun transition,” Licata said. “Coach Leipold is everything everyone said he was. It's all true. … He's used to winning. This is nothing new to him.”
Granted, the Bulls' victory was hardly grounds to tear down the goal posts. It came against an inferior FCS team in Albany, which will never be confused with Alabama. Whatever faint fantasies the Great Danes invented after scoring the first touchdown were quickly smothered by UB's bigger linemen and superiority at skill positions.
Anything short of a UB blowout would have been a surprise, and it certainly was better than the alternative. Alarms sounded two years ago when UB needed five overtimes to beat Stony Brook at home. It was perceived as a sign of trouble for Jeff Quinn, who failed to survive the following season.
Leipold didn't look any different than anyone else coaching Division I. He managed the clock well, identified Albany's flaws and exploited them. He changed the tempo with the no-huddle offense and was willing to hand control over Licata, his senior quarterback and leader.
UB started slower than it would have liked. The Great Danes scored the first touchdown before UB size and talent took over. The Bulls worked out a few kinks in the first quarter, gained control before halftime and spent the final two quarters bullying little kids at the playground.
Next week: Penn State.
The Nittany Lions aren't the powerhouse they were during their glory days. They lost to Temple for the first time since 1941 on Saturday. Penn State is still a big-time program from a major conference. Happy Valley is a long way from places like Menomonie, Eau Claire, Platteville and other D-III programs in Wisconsin.
“We're excited for that opportunity,” Leipold said.
Hey, you never know.
Leipold was widely respected in college coaching circles, but he wasn't exactly a household name when White hired him. Still, the move made sense. Leipold obviously knew the game. Football in its simplest form hasn't changed. It still comes down to blocking and tackling, size and speed.
For the most part, the atmosphere looked the same Saturday. Paid attendance was announced at 20,872. Fans remain slow to embrace local college football. UB is still struggling to carve its niche in a football market that's obsessed with the NFL. The best marketing tool, no matter the level of play, is winning.
It hasn't changed since the days of leather helmets.
“We want to build a program,” Leipold said. “We want to build a fan base. Everybody says this is a football area. We want to build a place where people want to be in the Northtowns on Saturday and the Southtowns on Sunday. That would be pretty special. I hope there's a day they fight for tickets the same way they do in Orchard Park.”
People should understand that Leipold has almost no chance to carry the success he had for Whitewater to Buffalo. For starters, he turned Whitewater into a destination for players who lacked the size or talent to play Division I. They're not climbing over one another to play in Buffalo, no matter who is coaching.
Secondly, Leipold isn't going to coach UB long enough to win 109 games. Bigger and better programs that can offer more money and greater opportunities will line up for him if he starts rattling off 10-win seasons. My advice for UB supporters would be to enjoy him for as long as you can and hope he keeps piling up wins.
Leipold could have an impact on the long-term goal of the program. Let's not kid ourselves. He can generate more interest, and therefore more money, if he can keep them eligible for bowl games year after year. It would be an upgrade over any coach they've had since returning to Division I.
That, to me, equates to success.
And that's a reason to smile.