Notebook: Jayhawks see Lance Leipold’s presence already making a difference for KU football
photo by: AP/LM Otero
Arlington, Texas — In the roughly two and a half months the Jayhawks have been around their new head coach, even though they haven’t yet practiced under Lance Leipold’s watch, Kansas football players are starting to learn about Leipold’s persona, expectations and approach.
“I like Coach Leipold. He’s real laid back,” super-senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II said, “and he just wants to see everybody do better. He truly wants to see change around here. He wants to see something that hasn’t been done around here in a long time.”
Leipold is inheriting a program coming off an 0-9 season in 2020, the Jayhawks’ 11th consecutive year with three or fewer wins.
In the players’ interactions with Leipold and his former UB assistants, junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. said the Jayhawks find the new coaches to be dedicated to making the players better people and players. And that’s one of the reasons why Logan thinks the aura around the team already seems improved for the better.
“I feel like guys do have a pep in their step. Guys actually believe and see there’s something in front of us that we’re trying to go get. Just believing in this process that we’re going through now is going to help us get there,” Logan added. “I definitely feel like guys are moving differently around here right now.”
Their new head coach’s record of success both at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater (109-6 and six national titles) and in the MAC at Buffalo (37-33 and three consecutive bowl appearances), Lassiter said, helped the players trust Leipold and his staff.
“The way it’s headed and the direction it’s going, it’s different,” Lassiter said. “He’s bringing what he’s always done to the table. And as players we all bought in and we’re trusting the process.”
Since the completion of spring practices and the transition to a Leipold led program, the KU defense lost three would-be starters for the 2021 season.
First Da’Jon Terry, and then Marcus Harris and Karon Prunty, opted to leave the Jayhawks and reboot their college football careers elsewhere, with all three using the transfer portal to escape to the SEC — Terry to Tennessee, Harris to Auburn and Prunty to South Carolina.
During his first interview since losing those three teammates, Logan addressed their departures on Thursday, during a Zoom call with reporters.
“Seeing them boys leave, (it) was something they had to do,” Logan said when asked about the transfers. “They felt like that was the best thing for them, so I salute them for that. But the guys that we have in place right now are going to help us get to the next level.”
One of the most productive returning players on the KU football roster, Logan led the Jayhawks with 58 total tackles in 2020, when he also recorded a team-best two interceptions. But it wasn’t just his recognizable name and face that made him the program’s defensive representative for Big 12 media days.
Leipold on several occasions Thursday praised Logan, a junior from St. Augustine, Fla., for his leadership qualities.
And when a reporter asked Logan why he thought he was chosen for the event, the third-year Jayhawk brought up his approach in the people skills category rather than his statistics.
“To be honest, just because I feel like I have a voice,” Logan said. “Guys listen to me. Just with my leadership skills, I just feel like (the coaches) thought it was the best opportunity for me to get out and showcase and stand in front of the team.”
Remote interview hiccups
Participating in Big 12 media days remotely didn’t come without some technical difficulties for KU football.
During Leipold’s first question and answer session early in the afternoon via Zoom, the head coach couldn’t hear incoming questions from his setup back in Lawrence. Adjusting on the fly, KU spokesperson Daniel Berk relayed questions from Texas to Leipold over speakerphone.
Later, about 10 minutes into Leipold’s Zoom call for the afternoon breakout session, the video froze and the interview took a pause for a couple of minutes while the issue was addressed before the session resumed and went on as scheduled.
KU’s first-year head coach likened the day’s unexpected traveling snafu, which led to such video call problems, to a teaching moment for the players, as he and the coaching staff try to establish a new tone and direction for the program.
“Today’s a little adversity. We didn’t get a chance to get down there in person with all of you and we’ve got to find a way to persevere through it,” said Leipold, who repeatedly apologized for the circumstances.