Leipold believes Grimes can complement KU’s existing staff

photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Kansas head coach Lance Leipold watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Lawrence.

When Kansas was preparing to face Baylor in October 2022, KU coach Lance Leipold said that Jeff Grimes, the Bears’ offensive coordinator, “was going to be probably a head coach in January somewhere.”

But when Leipold suddenly found himself looking for a new offensive coordinator of his own last week, Grimes emerged as an unexpected option to join KU’s own staff.

Grimes had been let go from Baylor on Nov. 26, not far removed from a 2021 conference-title season that made him Grimes “one of the hottest coordinators in the country,” as Leipold put it. But in 2023, the Bears slumped to 3-9.

“Administration, coaches, sometimes you have to make decisions that have to be made, not always want to be made, and sometimes, unfortunately, I don’t like using the word ‘casualty,’ but there’s people that sometimes lose jobs,” Leipold said Saturday when asked about Grimes becoming available. “So those things happen in other programs, or in college football, or in college athletics.”

As it happened, before Andy Kotelnicki even left KU, Leipold had already invited Grimes to come up and watch bowl practice. Then, as Leipold had to dig into an OC hiring process that “overwhelmed” him with interest from all sides, Grimes quickly became a top candidate. Leipold was looking for someone that had “that fit of what we’re doing, knowledge of the conference, schematics, what else they could add.”

“Our terminology, our philosophies and schemes are going to stay intact,” he said. “There’ll be additions and modifications, I’m sure, as that continues, as well. But I wanted someone that was going to be able to work well with the group that was already here, and I think Jim (Zebrowski)’s strengths and things are going to be a great complement, as well as the rest of the guys in the room.”

Zebrowski, KU’s quarterbacks coach who earned a recent promotion to co-offensive coordinator, will call the offense in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 26, Leipold confirmed Saturday.

In the long term, he could potentially have more say in the passing game than he did previously. There’s also a possibility, Leipold noted, that Zebrowski could move up to the box during games, as Grimes has primarily run the offense from down on the field during his career.

Leipold characterized Zebrowski’s promotion, as well as defensive backs coach Jordan Peterson’s to co-defensive coordinator, as “recognizing some of the current work that both of these guys do and their impact.”

“I think you see that across college football with different titles,” he added.

Besides those subtle changes and the departures of Kotelnicki and a couple analysts (Bill Queisert went with Kotelnicki to Penn State, while Zac Barton joined Sean Lewis’ new staff at San Diego State), the KU football staff should remain fairly consistent.

Leipold is now tasked with trying to incorporate Grimes into that longtime group, which still features quite a few members who coached with Leipold back at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo.

The integration process has been underway since Grimes arrived in Lawrence on Friday night and watched practice Saturday morning.

“We’ve got some recruits here, he’s going to meet some of them briefly, but he’s just trying to get the lay of the land,” Leipold said.

He added that because of the swiftness of the process — Kotelnicki officially joined Penn State on Dec. 1 and Grimes got hired six days later — some of the planning has been “72 hours at a time.”

It’s just one facet of a busy period during which, as Leipold put it Saturday, between bowl prep, recruiting, the transfer portal and of course Grimes’ assimilation, “Man, there’s a lot of things going on.”


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