Lance Leipold knew he would never come close to matching the success he had as the UW-Whitewater football coach while at the University at Buffalo.
Even Nick Saban can’t come close to the 109-6 record and six NCAA Division III championships Leipold compiled in eight seasons as the Warhawks head coach.
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association will induct Leipold into its Hall of Fame in March because of those accomplishments.
And that success earned him a shot to coach at a major university in western New York three years ago. The results have been mixed, but Leipold has the Bulls primed for success after a 6-6 record made Buffalo bowl-eligible this past season.
But Buffalo, along with fellow Mid-America Conference team Western Michigan and University of Texas-San Antonio were left out of the postseason with their 6-6 records.
The snub was not a huge financial blow, but a bowl game cost Leipold’s program in other ways.
“What it is is recruiting exposure and the extra practices for development,” Leipold said. “The disappointing thing is that our first two years, there were 5-7 teams in (bowls).”
Becoming bowl-eligible was a huge step forward, however. The Bulls were 2-10 in 2016—Leipold’s second season there—after his first team went 5-7.
His second season—when Leipold experienced almost twice the number of losses that he had in eight seasons at Whitewater—was marred by the death of a player who collapsed after an offseason workout, the departure of several players and the firing of the athletic director.
“I was hoping this coming year would be the one and I think we have some momentum coming into it,” Leipold said.
A quarterback who earned all-state honors in high school and who started at UW-Whitewater, Leipold is an offensive maestro.
He has a 6-foot-2, 217-pound wide receiver named Anthony Johnson, who decided to return to Buffalo after being projected as a fourth- to sixth-round pick in the NFL draft. Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
Leipold will open the door for him when preseason camp starts.
“He is pretty special,” Leipold said. “He has like three cousins in the NFL, including Jadeveon Clowney.”
And Leipold has not one, but two quarterbacks that produced last season. They combined for 3,100 yards passing and 22 touchdowns and 289 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
You can almost see Leipold smiling at the other end of the phone line.
“Our middle linebacker was second in the country in tackles, and (Johnson) was third in the nation in receiving, so now we have some name guys,” he said. “We have two good quarterbacks, so it should be fun.”
But getting to that “fun” takes work.
Recruiting high school players amps up once schools hand out scholarships. It’s almost year-round.
Leipold, after calling last Wednesday night, said he was driving to Toronto at 7 o’clock Thursday morning to meet with a possible recruit that goes to a prep school there.
Leipold and the potential recruit were then boarding a plane to meet his parents—in Calgary, Alberta, a four-hour, 20-minute flight. Apparently, coaches have to meet the recruit and his parents in a 24-hour time frame.
Then he got up to catch his 7 a.m. flight back to Toronto on Friday.
And the 53-year-old Leipold does that type of thing several times a week.
“At Whitewater we had a max three-hour radius,” Leipold said. “That’s the difference.”
It is what has to be done to attempt to raise the profile of the University at Buffalo in the big-dollar college football world.
“We play Kansas State and Ohio State in 2020,” Leipold said.
After hearing a reaction on the other end of the phone line, Leipold countered, “Hey, we have to pay the bills.”
Buffalo has Nebraska on its 2021 schedule. Wisconsin is on it in 2023.
Leipold and his wife, Kelly, and their daughter, Lindsey, and son, Landon, love Buffalo. They reside about a half hour from the shores of Lake Erie, which keeps the lake-effect snowstorms that hit the Buffalo Bills’ stadium away from them. Leipold says the area has a Midwestern feel to it.
But he is looking forward to getting back to Jefferson on the weekend of his induction into the WFCA Hall of Fame. When you are building a major college football program, there is little time to take vacations—even in the summer.
Leipold remains confident in what he’ll accomplish in Buffalo.
“Let’s hope so,” Leopold said. “Or I’ll be getting a Gazette paper route. I could go back to Jefferson and go door-to-door.”
He still has his sense of humor.