What to make of Kansas football coach Lance Leipold's name surfacing in connection with the now-open Nebraska job
Long before Nebraska fired head coach and former favorite son Scott Frost as its football coach on Sunday, there were whispers about Kansas coach Lance Leipold potentially becoming a candidate there if the Huskers’ job came open.
Now that Frost is out, those whispers have reached a fully audible level.
Mere minutes after the news broke that Frost was out, multiple national college football writers included Leipold’s name on their initial lists of Frost replacements.
There’s a long way to go before this is all settled, and Nebraska will play out the rest of the season with an interim head coach leading the way.
But their search will begin immediately, and it’s not crazy to think that Leipold will be involved at some point.
Here’s a quick look at three reasons why Kansas fans should be worried about that and three more reasons why they shouldn’t.
Reasons to worry
• Money, money, money
Nebraska is tired of losing and tired of being a laughing stock. Those folks still believe that a return to the glory days is possible. Whether it is or not is a whole other matter, but it sounds like they’re prepared to pay whatever it takes to try to make that happen. Beyond that, Nebraska is already in the Big Ten, where ridiculous TV money awaits. Forget about his salary for a minute. It’s that other part of the equation that opens the door to all kinds of things that have proven to be tough at KU — facilities upgrades, NIL opportunities and more. A significant raise and the keys to the kingdom would be tough to pass up.
• Leipold’s ties to the program and state
As you probably know, Leipold has been at Nebraska before. He was an assistant there from 2001 to 2003 and the Cornhuskers went 28-12 during those three seasons, so he knows what it looks like to win there. He also coached at Nebraska-Omaha from 1994-2000 and again from 2004-06 and his wife, Kelly, is from Omaha.
• His program builder reputation
There will be bigger names on the Cornhuskers’ potential list of candidates, but few of them will have the proven track record of building programs like Leipold. And let’s face it; regardless of what Nebraska fans want to believe, that program is in desperate need of a complete rebuild right now. Whether you’re talking about what he did at Wisconsin-Whitewater or Buffalo before now or the fact that he has injected life into the left-for-dead Kansas program, Leipold’s process and the results it has produced have to be awfully attractive to anyone watching.
Reasons to relax
• Nebraska might not even want him
First things first here. In order for Leipold to even entertain the idea of leaving Kansas for Nebraska, the powers that be to the north have to make the decision that he’s the guy they want. While I do believe he’ll be looked at seriously, I’m not sure that he’ll wind up being their first choice. Leipold’s already 58 and, while that’s not exactly old, the Nebraska folks may desire a younger coach to attack the massive task of trying to restore the once-proud NU program. Beyond that, there almost certainly will be several sexier names in the pool of candidates who show interest in the job, and the Nebraska donors, which have already proven willing to help the Huskers get out from the mess that was Scott Frost, may want to see NU make a much flashier hire. Selling that fan base on hiring the Kansas coach would not be an easy task, no matter how well the Jayhawks do this season or how promising the future looks.
• Leipold is under contract and Kansas wants him here
KU AD Travis Goff already has shown his desire to keep Leipold in Lawrence long term. The first gesture to that end came with the initial contract, a 6-year, $16.5 million deal that showed a strong commitment right out of the gate. The second came recently, when it was announced that Kansas added a year to Leipold’s contract, keeping him tied to KU through the 2027 season. While contracts include buyouts and people can always find a way to make something work, the fact that Leipold currently has a job to do and has his focused tied almost entirely to that could help Kansas out here. Some of the coaches on the early Nebraska lists that have surfaced are unemployed or in smaller roles as assistants and they may have more time and motivation to go after the job than Leipold does or can at the moment.
• The buyout language
We’ve seen plenty of times in the past that there’s always a way out of contract clauses concerning buyouts when coaches want to leave. But if it gets to that point with Leipold, it certainly won’t be cheap. Per the terms of his original contract, if Leipold were to leave KU for Nebraska (or any other college football program) he would owe the university $5 million. If, somehow, he were to delay his departure until Jan. 1, 2023, that number would drop to $4 million. But I can’t imagine Nebraska waiting that long to make a hire for anyone. And while buyout money might not be a total obstacle, it probably stacks the deck against Leipold a little. After all, he’d either be forfeiting roughly every penny he made in his 2 years at Kansas or he’d be asking NU to pay 25% of the $16 million buyout they already paid to get rid of Frost just to get Leipold.
If you asked me to make the call today whether I think Leipold will be the coach at Kansas or the coach at Nebraska for the 2023 season, I’d pick Kansas.
But those KU fans who don’t think him leaving is even a possibility probably need to take a deep breath and prepare themselves for the fact that things could play out differently than they think, hope or want.
Time will tell.