Why Wisconsin might have just become the biggest threat to the future of Kansas football
I know there are a lot of Kansas fans out there who are tired of hearing about the Nebraska job opening and whether Lance Leipold might be a candidate there at some point.
I also know that Leipold, on several occasions now, has said he and his family are happy in Lawrence and plan on being here for a long time.
And while that certainly appears to be true today and might very well wind up staying that way for a long time, the landscape changed in a fairly significant way on Sunday, and, like it or not, we have to take a look.
The Wisconsin coaching job is now open, and, as was the case when the Nebraska job opened up after the firing of Scott Frost last month, Leipold’s name was immediately tossed out as an option for the Badgers in their upcoming search to find a replacement for fired coach Paul Chryst.
There were (and still are) several reasons that Leipold being linked to the Nebraska job made sense. There are even more reasons he makes sense at Wisconsin.
That, of course, does not mean that he’s gone. But it does mean that this is a situation worth monitoring and it likely will remain that way for the next couple of months.
I haven’t sensed much concern or worry about Leipold leaving Kansas from the powers that be in the KU athletic department during the past few weeks. I think the belief on the inside has always been that they can and will do enough to inspire Leipold to stay right where he is for years to come.
But I suspect this Wisconsin news has at least started to make a few KU administrators a little nervous.
Here are the facts. Leipold is a Wisconsin native — from a town called Jefferson — and he enjoyed an amazing run of success at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six national titles as a head coach and also played quarterback from 1983-86.
He started his coaching career at his alma mater and then went on to spend three years with the Badgers as a graduate assistant from 1991 to 1993.
That all happened a long time ago, of course, but there’s no disputing that Leipold’s Wisconsin roots have always played a huge role in the way he coaches, how he lives his life and how he builds his programs.
One would think that getting the opportunity to coach football at his home state’s flagship school — in the Big Ten Conference, no less — would be awfully appealing to him.
If it is Leipold that Wisconsin chooses to pursue, there will be big dollars involved, both in terms of the salary they offer and the dollar signs dancing in one’s eyes from the school’s status as a part of the Big Ten. That could be hard to beat. And that’s true at Nebraska, as well.
I do think KU would get as creative as possible in order to entice Leipold to stay. A raise would be a given. As many years as Leipold wants on his contract also could be in play. And it would make sense to load up any new contract with all kinds of retention bonuses and achievement compensation, just to sweeten the pot as much as possible.
Beyond that, KU would have to both show and convince Leipold that a serious stadium renovation is coming soon.
Leipold’s current contract with Kansas, which features a $5 million buyout owed to the school if Leipold were to leave, is solid.
Not only was he given a 6-year deal worth a total of $16.5 million when he signed on with the Jayhawks in the spring of 2021, but the school even added a year to his deal — along with more money — before the first game of the current season.
After KU’s red-hot 5-0 start, though, and given what Leipold already has been able to show as a master rebuilder at Kansas, it seems safe to say that KU officials absolutely would be willing to draw up a brand new deal to keep Leipold in town for a long, long time.
The guess here is that KU would like to get a new deal done with Leipold immediately. Yesterday, in fact. Last week even. As soon as humanly possible.
But this is a business we’re talking about, and as much as Leipold is a football coach through and through, he has people around him who are well versed in handling the business demands of being a college football coach. In a situation like this one, where your client is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities in the sport, it makes the most business sense to wait to make any kind of move.
So that’s likely what will happen.
Leipold will go on coaching up the Jayhawks, trying to avoid these types of distractions and working as hard as possible to deliver more wins to Lawrence and get Kansas back into a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill will continue to churn, Leipold will remain linked to the Nebraska and Wisconsin jobs and probably will wind up on a few other lists, as well.
None of those other schools should worry Kansas fans. And, at this point, I’m not even all that sure that Nebraska should. But Wisconsin’s a different animal. So those of you who want to keep Leipold in Lawrence would be wise to root like crazy for Wisconsin’s interim head coach, Jim Leonhard, to win big during the next couple of months.
If he does that, it would be incredibly likely for Leonhard to become the top name in the Wisconsin coaching search, perhaps even a lock to get the job. Leonhard played at Wisconsin in the early 2000s, Badger fans already love him and he has been an assistant coach there since 2016.
Fun fact: Leonhard’s name came up briefly during the past two Kansas football coaching searches.
So, there you have the latest version of success bringing a whole other set of problems for the Kansas football program.
For the past 12 or 13 years, it was winning that was the biggest challenge at KU. Now that the winning has returned, it seems that the man behind it has become an awfully popular name in college football coaching circles. Go figure.
If you’re the silver lining type, and you’re looking for one here, it’s that all of the biggest challengers to steal Leipold from KU appear to be surfacing at the same time.
Put another way: If Leipold stays at KU while head coaching jobs were open at both Nebraska and Wisconsin, it likely would mean he’ll be here until he’s done coaching.
Time will tell how all this shakes out. In the meantime, don't forget that No. 19 Kansas will play host to No. 17 TCU at 11 a.m. Saturday, with ESPN's College Gameday in Lawrence for a football game for the first time in history.
A win would make the Jayhawks bowl eligible for the first time since 2008 and keep alive one of the best stories in all of college football this season.
Sheesh. Talk about sensory overload for Kansas football.