Lance Leipold named UB's 25th head football coach
Leipold has 106 wins in 112 games as a Division-III head coach
Buffalo’s new head football coach knows a thing or two about winning.
UB Athletics introduced Lance Leipold as the 25th head football coach Monday afternoon in Alumni Arena. Leipold coached eight seasons at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater and posted an incredible 106-6 record. He was the fastest coach in college football history to reach 100 wins (106 games).
Leipold won five national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater and his team is currently on a 27-game winning streak and is playing in the Division-III playoffs. Leipold will continue coaching his former team throughout the postseason.
Junior quarterback Joe Licata was among a group of players who Athletic Director Danny White spoke to about the qualities they wanted in their new head coach. The players wanted an ex-player with previous head coaching experience and someone they could relate to.
“Main criteria was someone who can relate to the guys and who players are going to love to play for and run through a wall for and coach [Leipold] seems to be that type of guy, so I’m excited,” Licata said.
Leipold played quarterback for Wisconsin-Whitewater from 1983-86. He had several assistant coaching stints, including some at the FBS level, before returning to his alma mater in 2007. Leipold served as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 1991-93 and as an administrative assistant at Nebraska from 2001-03.
Leipold had offers to leave Whitewater in the past, but he needed a “special opportunity” to relocate his family and find a new home.
UB Athletics reached out to Leipold through phone calls and text messages. About four weeks ago, he spoke with White for the first time. The two spoke again Friday and Saturday, and he was officially accepted the position Saturday evening and was on a plane early Sunday morning.
The Bulls are coming off a 5-6 finish in which the team won its final two games. Buffalo had eight wins the season before and played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity and it’s ready to take off,” Leipold said. “It’s going to take some work in the program, got to find a way to get a few more wins.”
White said there were still “several options” the team had over the weekend for head coach.
Leipold was impressed with White’s vision of making Buffalo “The next big-time college Athletics brand,” as the Athletics Departments displays on its website.
“It wasn’t just an open football position,” Leipold said. “It was the whole package Danny was talking about. I can tell just walking around with Danny that he’s always thinking about how he could make this thing better.”
White said he wanted someone with previous head coaching experience. He wanted someone who didn’t have much of a “learning curve” and believed Leipold fit those criteria.
The news of the hiring began to break Sunday evening. Licata said junior punter Tyler Grassman found a tweet from Leipold’s niece, Elissa Chessman, saying her uncle was accepting the head football coach position at the University at Buffalo.
Some players found her on Instagram and noticed she posted a picture of Wisconsin-Whitewater. When they searched for the school’s head coach and found Leipold, they were confident he was going to be their next head coach.
Licata began looking up videos and statistics and was impressed with Leipold’s pro-styled offense. Licata and Leipold haven’t had a formal, sit-down conversation yet, but Licata said he would be in Leipold’s office throughout winter break to talk about next year’s offense.
“I think our game is going to translate very well to his offense,” Licata said. “I think we have a lot of skill position players coming back that are very good.”
White said it isn’t abnormal for Leipold to continue coaching at Wisconsin-Whitewater for the remainder of the season. Leipold told White during his interviews that he wanted to finish out the season and White didn’t object. White wanted to announce his signing early in the week so Leipold could return to Whitewater to prepare for the game and the Bulls could continue recruiting and building a coaching staff.
“Just like what will be expected in this program is when we start something, we finish it and I do need to finish the obligation to make sure we play our fullest the longest we can back in the playoffs in Wisconsin,” Leipold said.
Leipold is taking over for Jeff Quinn, who was fired Oct 13, less than 48 hours after a 37-27 loss to Eastern Michigan. Quinn went 20-36 in four-plus season at Buffalo. Interim head coach Alex Wood finished the final four games at 2-2.
White wouldn’t comment on specific coaches he interviewed for the position but said, “I do think the world of Alex. I think he did a great job in the interim.”
The biggest change for Leipold will be recruiting. There are no scholarships at the Division-III level, and he’s excited to be able expand his recruiting skills.
“I’ve always said I wish I could walk into a home and offer a scholarship and to be able to do that, I think will be special,” Leipold said.
Leipold doesn’t see a huge difference in the game from the Division-III level, except pointing out that some of the players who attended Leipold’s press conference were a little quicker and bigger than his Division-III players.
Although this hire comes with less of a profile than some of White’s previous ones, like men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley, women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack, softball coach Trena Peel and volleyball coach Reed Sunahara, White said Leipold is the right coach for the Bulls’ current situation.
“Interpersonal skills are really, really important and in this scenario, I was looking for someone that’s had previous head coaching experience,” White said. “That was very important for us because I feel as a program, the players we have, we don’t feel like this is a hit the reset button and rebuild a program. We feel like we are really close so we wanted someone who knew how to drive the truck because it’s a really healthy truck right now.”
There have been no decisions made about the rest of the coach staff yet. Leipold interviewed all of Buffalo’s coaches after he met with some of the players Monday morning. He didn’t rule out the possibility of keeping some current Buffalo coaches and members of his staff at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“Ultimately that will be Lance’s decision, building a staff, I’m just trying to help him any way I can,” White said.
Leipold worked with former Buffalo head coach Turner Gill at Nebraska. The two spoke at a coaching conference in Indianapolis in January. Gill spoke about his time as Buffalo’s head coach and Leipold said he thought back to this conversation when Buffalo contacted him.
“Turner’s a man I’ve always respected and I took his words and advice,” Leipold said.
Licata is excited about the opportunity to play for Leipold in his senior year. Licata doesn’t see 2015 as a “rebuilding year.” The Bulls’ returning players include Licata, who threw for 2,647 yards and 26 touchdowns, Anthone Taylor, who ran for 1,403 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Ron Willoughby, who had 50 receptions for 771 yards and nine touchdowns.
“I don’t have time to rebuild. I have one more season left, so it’s now or never for me,” Licata said. “I have one more chance to win a championship and bring a championship back home to Buffalo so I hope he’s ready to do it.”
Buffalo has only 52 wins since entering Division-I in 1999. The Bulls have recorded three wins or less in 10 of 15 seasons. Leipold hopes to bring more consistency around Buffalo football.
“He said it’s going to take a lot of work, he knows that, but he’s going to be there for us,” Licata said. “He seems like he’s a real players coach, so we are excited about that.”
Tom Dinki contributed reporting on this piece.
This story has been updated.