What Lance Leipold, Kansas football coaches can apply from what they learned building up Buffalo

Jordan Guskey
Topeka Capital-Journal

LAWRENCE — Lance Leipold said Thursday he hasn’t really looked at the mental break Kansas’ open week provides as a good thing or a bad thing.

The Jayhawks’ head football coach would explain that sometimes continuing to play allows everyone to build upon the momentum of having a routine. But having the chance to get out and recruit as he did earlier in the week can be a nice change of pace. And given how the schedule played out, Leipold knows he’s getting the open week as close to the midway point in the season as he could get it, if it wasn’t going to come after the sixth game was played.

Leipold will let the people who have to deal with him analyze whether or not the mental break has been a valuable one. One could imagine Leipold having the chance to see his daughter Lindsey, who plays college volleyball at Stetson, compete this weekend in person would only be a positive for him.

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What Leipold doesn’t have to turn to someone else and ask, though, is what he learned as he helped build up the program at Buffalo after enjoying so much success at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Neither do Jayhawks offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and defensive coordinator Brian Borland, considering they were right there with Leipold throughout those six years in the Mid-American Conference. They know they can’t panic and have to keep believing in their plan.

Leipold noted they didn’t come to Kansas to let anyone down.

“I say this to the guys, too, on Mondays, I said, ‘You can win by 100 and you could lose by 100, what you do on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday doesn’t change,’” Kotelnicki said. “… The process, you can’t negotiate it. You can’t change it.”

Borland added: “I’m not discouraged with our players at all. I’m discouraged with the results … the frustration might be with some of that. But it’s not with our players. They continue to show up every day. They work hard. They’re coachable … From what I can see, they’re not down. They haven’t given up.”

Right now, the first season of the Leipold tenure at Kansas (1-4, 0-2 in Big 12 Conference) is trending toward a final record that would mirror that of his second season at Buffalo in 2016. That year, the Bulls finished 2-10 overall with just one win in conference play. Only time will tell for the Jayhawks if, in the years that’ll follow 2021, they’ll end up going to three-straight bowl games not long after like the Bulls would from 2018-20.

Leipold again brought up how he was still only hired less than six months ago, and that it’s a much later timeline than most jobs like this follow. He again stated that he isn’t using it as an excuse, rather just something they need to keep in perspective. Leipold admitted a mistake he makes at times is looking at his players as if they’ve all been in the program for the same amount of time, when in reality in the wide receivers room — for example — Steven McBride is a sophomore and Kwamie Lassiter II is a super senior.

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As Borland would describe it, Kansas as a team is just “in the middle of it” at the moment. It’s one that can still make significant strides both offensively and defensively, which Leipold thinks helps keep the locker room together because everyone has to embrace that. It’s one that has its coaches pointing to moments to show that the progression is happening even as lopsided losses occur like they have the past four games.

Kotelnicki brought up how the Jayhawks forced Iowa State to punt at start the second half back on Oct. 2, during a game in which the Cyclones went into halftime up 38-0, and then went down and scored a touchdown. Iowa only scored six more second-half points against Iowa State than Kansas did, and Baylor only scored three more.

The more experience someone like freshman safety O.J. Burroughs gets, the better he and the defense will be given how much he’s been relied upon. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Colin Grunhard has been out with an injury that was more severe than they’d hoped, and his return would add experience and depth back to the offensive line. Leipold hopes Grunhard can return by the end of the month, but doesn’t expect him to be available Oct. 16 against Texas Tech.

“We get that first win with South Dakota, we’re all feeling good and it’s exciting and the guys have some positivity and some affirmation of the work they’re putting in, and then things get real,” Kansas athletic director Travis Goff said during an appearance Wednesday on Hawk Talk. “And I don’t think any of us are too shocked quite frankly, or we shouldn’t be probably too shocked quite honestly with now getting into conference play in particular, where you’re facing mature programs.”

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Goff noted how Kansas is trying to build up to where Baylor and Iowa State both are right now. And he praised in that conversation the character and integrity Leipold has. Goff thinks the team needed that kind of a role model, and someone leading who’s providing the stability and consistency with messaging that Leipold is.

Goff said in the locker room after the loss against Iowa State, Leipold spoke to the team in a calm, positive and constructive way. Goff thinks it’s important that Leipold and the rest of the coaching staff takes ownership of what’s happening, too.

Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold applauds his team in the second half of the game earlier this season against the Baylor Bears. The Jayhawks lost the 2021 matchup 45-7.

“When you think about him trying to build upon the foundation that’s there, that’s got some cracks, that’s a little bit wobbly … consistency in messaging, consistency in expectations and accountability in helping these young men grow and evolve and develop in every facet, that’s what he’s provided that team,” Goff said. “And that’s what they need first and foremost. Those are the things that they can build upon even when it’s not showing up on the field and when it’s not showing up on the scoreboard.”

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.