Kansas hires Buffalo’s Lance Leipold as head coach

Jake Crandall/ Advertiser
0 Comments

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas hired Buffalo’s Lance Leipold, turning over one of college football’s worst programs to a longtime Division III coach with strong Midwestern roots.

Leipold signed a six-year contract and takes over for Les Miles, who won a national championship at LSU. Miles parted with Kansas after two losing seasons and amid sexual harassment allegations dating to his time with the Tigers.

“It is an exciting and humbling opportunity and this is a day I will never forget,” Leipold said in a statement. “We are going to build this program through developing players, discipline and determination. The philosophies engrained in our programs along the way will be key as we turn this around. This is a program that has a lot of young talent on the roster and has the infrastructure in place to succeed. The best days for this program are ahead.”

Leipold has been with the Bulls the past six years, building a downtrodden program into a perennial bowl contender. He is 37-33 with Buffalo, leading the school to its best seasons since joining the Mid-American Conference in 1999.

Before jumping to the Division I level, the 56-year-old Leipold won six national championships in eight seasons while going 109-6 as the head coach of his alma mater, Wisconson-Whitewater. At one point, the Warhawks won three straight titles to cap perfect seasons, then after a seven-win “down year,” put together two more undefeated seasons.

Now, new Kansas athletic director Travis Goff – who was hired away from Northwestern in April – hopes a coach with all those D-III championships on his resume can do what a coach who won a D-I title could not.

“His track record of sustained excellence is exactly what we were looking for in our next leader,” Goff said in a statement Friday, “and is what the University of Kansas and our fans deserve.”

Miles was hired nearly three years ago by then-AD Jeff Long to turn around one of the worst Power Five programs in college football history. Instead, the Jayhawks went winless in nine games during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, the 12th straight in which they failed to hit the .500 mark or win more than one Big 12 game.

Miles was then let go in March after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced. A law firm’s review of LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints campuswide described how Miles “tried to sexualize the staff of student workers in the football program” before he was fired four games into the 2016 season.

Leipold played quarterback for Wisconsin-Whitewater in the 1980s before beginning a long grind through college football’s lower ranks. He spent time at Doane, an NAIA school in Nebraska, and several seasons coaching at Nebraska-Omaha, whose football team was later disbanded to save money.

His only Division I experience before Buffalo hired him in 2015 was a stint as a graduate assistant under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin in the early 1990s and some time with Frank Solich at Nebraska in the early 2000s.

Leipold took over a Bulls team that had regressed under Jeff Quinn and had played in only two bowl games before his arrival. Leipold endured two losing seasons before winning at least six games each of the past four years, twice playing for a MAC title and going 6-1 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

That put him on the radar for several high-profile openings earlier in the coaching carousel.

The Jayhawks certainly have higher hopes for Leipold than the last coach they hired from Buffalo. Turner Gill was just 5-19 over two seasons in Lawrence before he was fired, beginning a whirlwind of hirings and firings: Charlie Weis lasted parts of three seasons, David Beaty survived four and Miles was let go after two.

Along with the Jayhawks’ history of losing, Leipold will have to overcome a substantial talent gap in the Big 12, fan apathy that has only grown over the past decade and facilities – despite a new indoor practice field – that are woefully outdated.

“I can’t thank Lance enough for everything he has done for our football program,” Buffalo athletic director Mark Alnutt said. “His vision and leadership helped elevate the UB football brand. We are grateful for what Lance has done here and we wish him and his family all the best as they embark on this new journey.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.