White goes a different direction for next football coach

Lance Leipold could be a perfect fit for Buffalo


At 6 p.m. Sunday, I received one of the worst messages you want to get while in standstill traffic on Route 17 heading back to UB from Long Island – Athletic Director Danny White is set to announce its 25th head football coach Monday at 1 p.m.

I immediately went to my phone, unable to get any official word on who the coach may be except that he was “successful” with “head coaching experience.”

But as reports starting coming out, little by little (as I helplessly refreshed Twitter, conducted Google searches and tried my best to get information from only a smart phone in very spotty coverage) and the rumor was Lance Leipold, a D-III football coach, my first thought was: How far has this program fallen in less than two years?

Yes, Buffalo isn’t a hotspot for football. Only two bowl games since 1999 in a place that’s proven to be difficult to recruit to and an AD who is very trigger-happy with his coaches.

But still, it’s a FBS Division-I head coaching opportunity. There are only 128 of those jobs in the world. And Buffalo couldn’t do better than someone from D-III?

Then, as I began doing more research, I realized how this wasn’t your ordinary D-III coach. Leipold has posted a 106-6 record with five national championships. He’s the quickest coach in college football history to 100 wins (106 games) and is currently on a 27 game-winning streak.

I don’t care if he’s coaching 8-year-olds, you can’t argue with these results.

I have a hard time believing Leipold was White’s first, second, fifth or even 10th choice. This hire doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor of some of his previous nine hires (most notably, Bobby Hurley). But again, when he hired Shawn Burke as women’s soccer coach, there was no ‘wow’ factor, but less than a year later there was a championship.

Leipold isn’t a sexy hire from the Southeastern Conference (SEC). He isn’t a former Division-I or NFL player. I’m sure Danny made calls to people who fit these criteria. But he couldn’t get a “yes” – and with some, I’m sure he couldn’t even get an interview.

And that’s because Buffalo is one of the hardest places to coach in college football. It was funny how White opened his press conference talking about how UB’s academic success is why this could be “America’s next big-time college athletics program.”

I see it differently. Notre Dame’s football program has fallen largely because of academic standards. Even Stanford, a usual football powerhouse, is sitting at 7-5 and unranked this season.

Buffalo doesn’t have quite as difficult academic standards but it does have higher ones than the average MAC school. This hurts football recruiting more than anything. And it doesn’t help that the school has one championship, two bowl games, very few NFL draft picks, no indoor facility and some of the worst weather in America during football season.

They needed an under-the-radar signing. And a coach like Leipold could be for Buffalo’s own good.

When former head coach Jeff Quinn was hired, there was a lot of excitement. He was Brian Kelly’s (who started at a Division-II school, himself) offensive coordinator, who is the current head coach at Notre Dame, for more than 20 years. But after his four-plus season, 20-36 record, it was clear Quinn wasn’t made to be a head coach.

We know Leipold can run a program. He can surround himself with a strong assistant staff. He knows how to bring in student-athletes. Most importantly to Buffalo fans and administrators alike, he knows how to win.

It’s ironic that White’s hire with arguably the least name-recognition comes with college’s highest profile sport. But that’s all right. The Bulls have enough high-profile coaches at UB.

Maybe Buffalo needs a Midwestern from a small school in Wisconsin.

Get used to the spotlight, Leipold. It’s going to be bright. Leipold will be the most popular person on campus from now to September. But once the games start, if he’s losing, he will remember he’s not in Wisconsin anymore.

He had a run-in with the student newspaper at his former school because he didn’t like one of its editorials – he may not want to read The Spectrum too often if the Bulls initially struggle.

This is a mature hire by Danny White. He’s seemed to be spot-on with all his coaching signing thus far, so I’m certainly not going to question this one. Winning is the same no matter where you go. The field is still 100 yards long (120 if you include the end zones). As long as he can recruit, connect with his players and earn their trust, he should be fine.

“It’s football,” Leipold said.

The hardest question he may face from now to September is whether Duff’s or Anchor Bar has better chicken wings.

Expect that all to change a few weeks into the season. The Leipold era has begun. Welcome to Buffalo.

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com