Here’s a question Lance Leipold will be asked a thousand times over the next nine months: what’s the difference between coaching Division III and FBS? In short, nothing, and everything. “It’s football,” Liepold said at his introductory press conference on Monday.
With a 106-6 record in seven-plus seasons, five national championships, four perfect 15-0 seasons, and separate 46 and 29 (and counting) game winning streaks, Leipold proved his ability as an elite coach long ago. The only question was whether the former Wisconsin-Whitewater player, assistant (in two separate stints) and head coach would ever leave.
“The opportunity was so overwhelming and exciting, that when the question was asked what it would take to leave Wisconsin-Whitewater, I said it had to be special, and a special opportunity for our family,” Leipold said.
The leap Leipold has made is rare. So rare, in fact, that he’s the only current FBS coach to move from Division III directly to FBS. But his rapid rise isn’t completely unprecedented.
If you’re drawing a line from Leipold to any of his FBS peers, you’d have to go to South Bend, Indiana.
Before he was one of the most visible coaches in college football, Brian Kelly was a successful (though not as successful as Leipold) coach at Division II Grand Valley State. From 1991-03, Kelly went 118-35-2, leading the Lakers to six playoff appearances and consecutive national championships in his last two seasons.
Kelly moved from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan following the 2003 season. He went 4-7 in 2004 and 6-5 in 2005, and then used a 9-4 record and a MAC championship to replace Mark Dantonio as the head coach at Cincinnati. Four years after that he was at Notre Dame.
Leipold, 50, is eight years older now than Kelly was when arrived at Central Michigan. The point of this post is not to project him on to some catapult up the coaching ladder. Let’s allow him to complete his first day on the job at Buffalo first.
But don’t expect him to be some fish out of water. He’s worked at Wisconsin and Nebraska previously. Athletics director Danny White wouldn’t have offered, and Leipold wouldn’t have accepted, if this couldn’t work.
It’s still football, after all.