Matt Tait: It’s time for Kansas football to lock in Lance Leipold
Thanks to Saturday’s 35-27 win over unbeaten Duke that moved the Kansas football team to 4-0 on the season, KU Athletic Director Travis Goff now should have just one thing on his to-do list.
Find the nearest paper shredder, toss Lance Leipold’s contract into it and get to work on drafting another one.
Put another way: Pay the man and make it sing. More money and more years makes a whole lot of sense.
What Leipold has done in his first 16 games in charge of the long-suffering program goes way beyond leading the team to its first four-win season since 2009.
Yes. That really happened, by the way. And he needed just four games to do it. Mind-blowing.
But this stretch of unexpected success is much bigger than the impressive wins and the suddenly-sunny postseason potential.
It’s bigger than the sellout crowd full of fans buying T-Shirts with Leipold’s name on them and those fans staying to the end of games and getting louder at the most important moments.
It’s bigger than Kansas becoming one of the most-talked about stories of the college football season thus far.
And it’s bigger than quarterback Jalon Daniels looking like, playing like and legitimately being a Big 12 Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy candidate.
Downright unbelievable is what it is, and there’s no reason for anyone inside the KU athletic department to wait any longer to see, nor need any further proof of, Leipold’s coaching chops or ability to turn around this program.
Talk to donors, grab Leipold, dial up his agent, Bryan Harlan, and turn what’s already a pretty nice contract into one that is guaranteed to keep Leipold in Lawrence for years to come.
Don’t worry about the what-ifs or the regression or the down days that are sure to come. He knows how to manage those.
And Kansas now knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is the man they want doing that.
Truth be told, Goff knew that the moment he hired Leipold.
After a thorough coaching search during which Kansas explored all possibilities, Goff and company zeroed in on Leipold early for all of the reasons we’re seeing today.
Yeah, he had a history of being able to turn around and build programs. And his track record illustrated that he can coach.
But it’s the part about never being satisfied while still finding a way to be genuinely happy and proud of the effort, the results and the progress that made — no, makes — Leipold the perfect fit for this program at the absolutely perfect time.
Kansas entered the football season with a lot at stake. And in the most resounding way possible, Leipold, his coaching staff and the Jayhawks themselves have shown that KU can have a football program that people respect.
Talk to the players about why that is and they’ll point to the hard work they put in all offseason and how the reputation of Kansas football as a national laughingstock fueled them.
That’s not all that different from how players from the past felt, but the leadership and guidance they’re getting on how to manage that is different than before.
It’s simple, really. Work hard, do your job, execute what you’re asked to execute and then do it all over again the next play or the next series or the next week.
That approach is fine for the coaches and players inside the program. But those of us on the outside can and should say more.
This improbable run is bordering on historic. It’s not that KU hasn’t started 4-0 before. It’s just that it hasn’t happened all that often.
In the 133-year history of Kansas football, KU now has started 4-0 or better 25 times. But 17 of those came before 1931 and just three of them, including this year, have taken place this century.
What that kind of start means for Kansas is obvious. The roster is loaded with confidence, two wins away from bowl eligibility and having fun again. I mean, this team’s going to be ranked on Sunday.
What it means for everything around the program is even bigger, though. Bigger financially, bigger emotionally, bigger nationally. Just bigger.
Although he’s only been a Jayhawk for a year-and-a-half, Leipold already seems to get that loud and clear. He talked Saturday of last year, when he thought to himself during KU’s 2-10 season, “We’ll get this thing filled someday.”
Someday arrived on Saturday, and Leipold got to soak that up ever so briefly.
“Is there a moment before the ball’s kicked off or even during warm-ups (when) you see such a huge difference?” he said after the win over Duke. “Yeah. It’s good for our university and community and all those different things. You say it a lot, but then you’ve got to recognize it when it happens.”
Same goes for finding a coach like Leipold, who can restore respectability to your down-in-the-dumps program and lead you to new heights.
The powers that be at KU can say how great he’s been and is and what a terrific fit he is for the program or they can recognize it when it happens.
Locking him up for the long haul with a new contract takes care of both.