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UB’s Leipold found mentor in Ohio coach

University at Buffalo football coach Lance Leipold will look across the sidelines Saturday and see a coach, a roster and a program that he aims to emulate.

Ohio University coach Frank Solich has built the Bobcats into a perennial winner. This season will be Ohio’s seventh straight year of bowl eligibility. Solich happens to be one of Leipold’s mentors. Leipold worked under him at Nebraska from 2001 to 2003.

“We talk about building a program that can be a consistent bowl participant,” Leipold said. “What has Ohio done? They’ve been a consistent bowl participant with a chance to win some conference championships.”

Fifteen of Ohio’s 22 starters are in their fourth or fifth year in the program. There are 10 such players on the UB roster. Of the 44 players on Ohio’s two-deep roster, 22 are in their fourth or fifth seasons on the team. UB has 14 such players.

Solich also has played a role in an upgrade of facilities over his 10 seasons at Ohio. The Bobcats opened a $13 million indoor practice facility in 2014.

“Frank has helped take everything to a new level there,” Leipold said.

Ohio (5-2) is a three-point favorite over the Bulls (2-4) in the 3:30 p.m. game at UB Stadium.

Leipold aims to take UB to a new level. He is a big-picture coach who leaves the details of running the offense and defense to his coordinators. That’s similar to Solich, who has had the same coordinators in place for the past 10 years.

Leipold has made it clear to Athletic Director Danny White that he wants to be actively involved in fund-raising for a new fieldhouse. Plans for an $18 million UB practice facility are on the drawing board. Leipold has met with donors.

Leipold said just this week he had a meeting with Eric Gross, UB senior associate athletic director, about football fund-raising and the fieldhouse plans.

The big picture is something Leipold grew to appreciate as an administrative and recruiting assistant under Solich.

“It was a great experience from the standpoint I wasn’t an on-field coach,” Leipold said. “One thing that it really helped me prepare for is that there’s really a lot more to it than Xs and Os. It made me have an understanding what support staff can do, what things can be done other than when the offensive and defensive staffs are in their rooms game-planning. I think that helped me become a head coach.”

Solich has built the Bobcats for the long haul. Almost every freshman red-shirts. His players improve. Few wash out of the program. By the time Ohio players hit the field, they have a great understanding of the scheme and philosophy.

“Their numbers of veteran players shows a couple things,” Leipold said. “They’re recruiting the right people for their system. It’s recruiting, it’s developing, it’s retaining, and those players are having a positive experience there. They’ve bought into that model. Many times today, people get impatient and they bounce. It says a lot about him and his staff.”

For the record, former UB coach Jeff Quinn believed in red-shirting and did a good job of player development, too. He wasn’t into quick fixes.

Leipold is dealing with the fact UB has recruited poorly on the defensive side of the ball.

Leipold has burned the red-shirts of five true freshmen on defense this year because the talent isn’t good enough.

Leipold said he intends to red-shirt as much as possible. But he says he saw the value of playing some true freshmen when he worked under Pat Behrns at Division II Nebraska-Omaha. Behrns quickly turned around that program in the mid-1990s.

“We tried to redshirt, but at the same time we probably accelerated the daily competition component of the program early on,” Leipold said. “If you’re competing at a level that’s going to help us, then you’re going to play. That’s going to be the balancing act. If there’s a small margin, we’re going to red-shirt.”