Jayhawks’ Lance Leipold settled in, optimistic about Year 2

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lance Leipold first walked into the head coach’s office at Kansas, arguably the worst program in Division I football, amid terrible circumstances and during a time of the year that only made everything worse.

The Jayhawks were coming off a winless 2020 season under Les Miles, who had then resigned in ignominy amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations dating to his time at LSU. The scandal also led to the departure of athletic director Jeff Long, leaving the entire program in turmoil during a crucial recruiting period and all the way into spring practices.

Leipold never even conducted a practice with the Jayhawks until the start of fall camp last year.

So even though they proceeded to win just two games in his debut, extending their streak of losing seasons to unlucky No. 13, the point at which Leipold is starting off this fall is a whole lot better than where he stood a year ago.

“There’s so many things that are different for the better,” Leipold said. “We’ve said many times, player know the coaches, know what to expect. We still have a fair amount of new guys going through their first practice, and there’s uncertainty and wandering around – Where do I go next? – everyone is understanding and we’re in a much better spot.”

The long-time small-college coach pauses for a moment and thinks back to last season.

“Last year, two or three weeks into training camp we were still evaluating,” Leipold recalled. “We have an idea now. We still may be evaluating, but we’re developing at the same time. That’s a good feeling.”

The challenge now is turning development into success.

Six coaches have failed to produce a winning season since the Jayhawks went 8-5 under Mark Mangino in 2008, and none managed more than one conference win. That includes Charlie Weis, who arrived in Lawrence flashing Super Bowl rings, and Miles, who won a national championship with the Tigers.

The 58-year-old Leipold is about substance more than style, though, and that could be exactly what the Jayhawks need to climb the Big 12 standings. He cut his teeth at his alma mater, Wisconsin-Whitewater, going 109-6 and winning six national titles in eight seasons at the Division III school, then turned around a lowly Division I program at Buffalo.

Leipold accomplished all of that by being the antithesis of so many young, hotshot coaches across major college football whose success is largely tied to their ability to recruit five-star prospects. He is a football coach in the truest sense, rather than the CEO of a corporation, and hangs his battered cap on his ability to take good players and make them great.

He’d rather be on the practice field with his hand in the dirt than poring over spreadsheets in his office.

“There’s expectations, you know? There’s really no gray. There’s black and white,” said Kansas defensive end Sam Burt, who is on his third coach after starting his career with David Beaty. “You can see he knows what he’s doing. The whole coaching staff knows what it’s doing. And like I said, there’s no gray. It’s always like this or that, if that makes sense.”

It makes perfect sense if you know Leipold’s career arc.

He spent time at Doane, an NAIA school in Nebraska, and Nebraska-Omaha, whose football program no longer exists. And the two stints Leipold had at the Division I level were under two more consummate coaches: He was a graduate assistant to Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez in the early 1990s and worked with Frank Solich at Nebraska in the early 2000s.

“Where we’re going, how we’re doing it – that was Year 1,” Leipold said. “Now I think this group has a determination about them in how they want to approach things and change the direction of this program.”

There was unmistakable progress last season, highlighted by a dramatic overtime win at Texas, and a full recruiting cycle coupled with a productive spring program have only carried that momentum forward.

“It feels way different, just how we attack everything: the tempo, the pace, the excitement,” Jayhawks safety Kenny Logan said. “We believe in what we’ve done this offseason. We don’t want to go through (another rebuild).”

Rather, the Jayhawks want to finish off this one.

That task continues Sept. 2, when they open their season against Tennessee Tech. Then comes back-to-back road games against Big 12 foe West Virginia and future conference rival Houston before another non-league game against Duke.

Those four games should help to tell whether Leipold is on the right track.

“We’re not in the moral victory business and we understand that completely,” Leipold said. “But we’re always looking at, whether it be individual improvement in certain things, how we’ve gone about our daily business and really how we’ve connected dots with our players about becoming better holistically, whether it be weight room or academically and better leadership, better teammates, that these things are going to stack upon themselves and help us on game day.”

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.