Not so 'big-time'

A good hire for the team, but not for the program


It is officially the Lance Leipold era for the Buffalo football team.

Wait, Lance Leipold? What happened to Alabama coordinator Lane Kiffin? Or former Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Wigginham? Or former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt?

Anyone that follows college football should know at least one of the three prominent names listed above. If you don’t, these men are some of the options that Buffalo did not hire for the head coach vacancy.

On Monday, Athletic Director Danny White officially announced Leipold as the new head coach of the football team. He is the former head coach of Wisconsin-Whitewater – a Division-III team.

I’m not putting him down at all. He’s an excellent coach. He posted the best winning percentage in college football and became the fastest coach in NCAA history to reach 100 wins. In his tenure at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold went 106-6 and won five Division-III championships.

There is no doubt he can make an immediate impact. After a losing season and a missed bowl berth, there is much room for improvement for the team.

It was a matter of time before Division-I programs started to see his potential. And Buffalo was the first school to jump on the opportunity.

He is an offensive minded coach, which will be beneficial to the slew of offensive weapons that will be returning to the team, including quarterback Joe Licata, wide receiver Ron Willoughby and running back Anthone Taylor. Leipold will help develop them into better players in his pro-style offense.

The biggest problem I see for his tenure will be the ‘learning curve.’ White’s hire was a perplexing decision. It seemed he was determined to find a coach that would come natural to coaching at the Division-I level. White would have been elated for an assistant coach from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) or a recently departed head coach from around the country. But White ended up with a gamble on a D-III coach.

Leipold will be learning on the job. The transition from divisions will be a bigger curve than White and Leipold believe to be. He will certainly bring coaches with FBS experience with him, but how far can that go? The head coach must make all the final calls for a team.

It’s a practical idea to believe he will benefit the program. He has a great track record. He is a rigid coach who is ready to take on the challenge. But is he ready for ‘big time?’

White has been building the #NYBI campaign to transform UB athletics into the next big-time college program and flagship university of New York. Almost every hire White has made has been a big-time name: Bobby Hurley, Felisha Legette-Jack and Reed Sunahara to name a few.

Only three of White’s 10 hires have not had any Division-I coaching experience and Leipold is the first head coach hire to switch from Division-III to Division-I.

I’m not concerned with his minimal experience in Division-I. Women’s soccer head coach Shawn Burke had zero head coaching experience and led the team to a MAC Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament in his first year.

I’m concerned with his name itself. His name will not draw attention like an established coach would have. If White is serious about building up the athletic program into a big-time college brand, a Division-III coach for the school’s most well-known program is not the way to begin.

The hire brought the team in the right direction, but it didn’t help the program’s direction.

Let’s see if Leipold can make it big-time.