Lance Leipold has considered the fact that he is about to face Toledo for the first time as University at Buffalo football coach. He also has thought about the Rockets’ success in the MAC, and pays homage to what coach Jason Candle and his staff have done.
“We want to really build our program like a program that has had that type of success, a team that’s consistently been in bowl games, won MAC championships,” Leipold said. “We have great respect for what they do and it’s kind of unique that it’s taken almost four years for us to go play there.”
It seems like an uncharacteristic statement coming from a coach who is crafting success within his own program. But like Candle, Leipold's success as a coach in an accomplished Division III program has helped put him in this spot.
Toledo (3-3, 1-1 MAC) hosts Buffalo (6-1, 3-0) at noon Saturday at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio. Leipold faces Candle for the first time since the 2008 Division III championship game, when Candle was the offensive coordinator at Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, and Leipold was the coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Wisconsin-Whitewater faced Mount Union seven times from 2007 to 2014 for the Division III national championship. Leipold became the coach at UB in December of 2014 and implemented the program he used during his eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater. But he also incorporated what he saw in Mount Union’s program.
“The thing I always respected, as we tried to build our consistency at Whitewater, was looking at some of the things that they (Mount Union) do,” said Leipold, a 1987 Wisconsin-Whitewater graduate who led the Warhawks to six Division III championships, all against Mount Union. “Dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds and keeping them focused to get better and stay motivated each and every week to play their best is not always easy. You’re heavily favored. But do you watch Mount Union’s scores over the years? They dominate teams they’re supposed to dominate. That goes from the head coach on down.”
Candle developed many of his coaching philosophies from Mount Union, a school of about 2,100 undergraduate students about 70 miles southeast of Cleveland, first as the Purple Raiders’ wide receivers coach from 2003 to 2006, then as the offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2008.
Leipold and Wisconsin-Whitewater defensive coordinator Kevin Bullis faced Candle’s offense in the 2007 and 2008 Division III championship games.
“There’s probably not a day that passes by that there’s not consciously done or unconsciously done on my actions and how I approach things or my message to the team that doesn’t have a Larry Kehres or some type of Mount Union influence to it,” Candle said, referring to the longtime coach who led the Purple Raiders to 11 Division III championships in 27 seasons. “That’s where I learned football. That’s where I learned how to prepare. That’s where I learned to anticipate problems. A lot of those things are cut from that cloth.”
Leipold also drew from a philosophy of Kehres’ program: find coaches who win, regardless of what level. In addition to six coaches who worked with Leipold at Wisconsin-Whitewater, four UB staff members are Mount Union graduates: quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, assistant strength and conditioning coach Reggie Overton and graduate assistants Dan Allen and James Daniels.
Division III programs don’t have the same resources as Division I programs, but Leipold realized coaches at that level have comparable skills and knowledge that can create a foundation to become a Division I coach.
“Getting great coaches is something that is done by design, and Lance is doing that at Buffalo,” said Bullis, who succeeded Leipold as coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2015. “That’s the thing Lance has proven, whether it's a Division III coach or a Division II coach or an NAIA or a high school coach, you’ve got to have a great staffing situation. Not just the number of coaches you have, but the quality of coaches.”
When Candle joined the Toledo coaching staff in 2009, it was a relief for Bullis, who was Wisconsin-Whitewater's defensive run game coordinator and special teams coordinator from 2008 to 2014.
“I remember I was extremely happy when Jason left Mount Union, because he is an awesome coach,” Bullis said, laughing. “I didn’t think he’d become a MAC coach, but I knew he was going to be successful wherever he went.”
Candle is in his third season as coach at Toledo. Leipold is in his fourth at UB.
Candle was surprised to learn that Leipold thought so highly of his program.
“They’re going to do things the right way and the correct way,” Candle said. “That goes back to many battles we had with him when he was at Whitewater and we were at Mount Union. That program is built the right way from the inside out. That’s what you’re seeing at Buffalo right now.
“To hear a good coach like Lance say that about Toledo, that makes you feel good, but we’re looking forward to playing them on Saturday.”