Successful first year of Lance Leipold era doesn’t need wins

Those can come later

Lance Leipold’s .947 career winning percentage is going to take a major hit this season.

No, that’s not a knock on the first-year Bulls head coach making the leap from Division III to Division I. I’ve grown to like Danny White’s hire and came away impressed by Leipold after a sit down interview in his office this summer. If I had to say right now in September 2015 – before ever seeing the man coach a D-I game – if he is going to have success at UB or not – I would say yes, yes he will.

But let’s not crown him the savior of Buffalo football just yet and expect some more Mid-American Conference Championship hardware coming back to Amherst this December. It would be unrealistic to expect this out of Leipold in his first head-coaching season at an NCAA level with scholarships and adequate funding. It would probably even be a little ‘unfair’ – not that that word really has that much weight in professional or college athletics.

Leipold’s first season in Buffalo probably won’t result in the program’s second-ever MAC Championship or third-ever bowl appearance – and it doesn’t have to.

Leipold’s first season in Buffalo only has to a result in a competitive MAC team that will be just entertaining enough to fill up UB Stadium seats this season and make season ticket holders want to renew for next season – and maybe even get a few of them to make a $1,000 donation to watch the Bulls from the West Club.

This season is about the Bulls showing just enough to make people think, Hey, this coach has this thing on the right path. It’s about building a fan base, support and resources for the future – which may result in a MAC Championship one day.

And it’s become pretty obvious there’s one resource in particular that Buffalo needs to finally bring sustained success to the program.

A field house.

Finally breaking ground for an on-campus field house is a big deal to both White and Leipold; Leipold brought up the field house in his introductory statement at Media Day, while White was quick to point out in an interview with me this summer that Buffalo is the only team in the MAC without one.

UB Athletics first released its Facilities Master Plan a year and a half ago – a plan outlying its goals for an athletic village on North Campus with the primary feature of a field house located north of UB Stadium.

An artist’s rendering of a North Campus field house now sits in the entrance to the Murchie Family Football Center in UB Stadium. Players, coaches, media and potential donors can’t enter the building without being reminded of it.

And UB Athletics should keep up the push. The facility seems like it would be funded mostly from private donations and would allow the football team, along with other outdoor sports like soccer, baseball, softball and track, to practice indoors during the harsh winter without a long commute to the Buffalo Bills’ field house. UB can continue to be the only AAU university in the MAC, but if it doesn’t have a facility that every other team in the conference has, that advantage doesn’t mean as much.

What better way to build toward that facility than with high attendance for general seating and the private West Club, as well as some additional donations? That comes with Leipold getting the most out of this impressive senior class while he still has them.

Buffalo has perhaps the best group of ‘triplets’ or quarterback, running back and wide receiver combo in the MAC. If the Bulls rely on Joe Licata, Anthone Taylor and Ron Willoughby on offense, they should be an entertaining and top MAC offense that could string together some wins.

That defense is cause for concern, though. Leipold said on Media Day that if the Bulls give up 48, they had better score 49. He may have been inadvertently foreshadowing his first season in Buffalo. The best players from Buffalo’s terrible defense a year ago have all graduated. I’m not sure this defense has turned around and won’t be the thing that drags the team down to a four- or five-win season compared to a seven- or eight-win one.

The schedule isn’t set up for winning season like it was a year ago, either.

White didn’t his repeat his mistake of scheduling two Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) games like he did a year ago, and between a trip to Happy Valley and a tough opening slate of conference play, Buffalo could have its bowl hopes dashed early.

The last five games don’t present as much of a challenge outside a Nov. 11 matchup against Northern Illinois, which may present Buffalo a chance a late rally for wins and hope for the future.

It’s exactly what they need for a ‘successful’ season and gain support down the line. After all, Leipold won’t be judged on his first season. He and White both know this is a project. This season is the first step in getting Buffalo the resources it needs.

The wins can come later.

5-7 (3-5 MAC)

Tom Dinki is the Editor in Chief and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki.