Kansas football: Lance Leipold doesn't get the respect he deserves

Dec 26, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold looks on against the UNLV
Dec 26, 2023; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold looks on against the UNLV / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Turner Gill. Charlie Weis. David Beaty. Les Miles. Those were the four coaches since Mark Mangino that couldn't muster more than three wins in a single season since 2009 with Kansas football.

It's almost hard to fathom that a football program won three or fewer games in each season for 11 straight seasons, but that's how bad Kansas was. The Jayhawks were the laughingstock not just of the Big Ten but of college football. They could not hang in the Power Five and jokes about them being demoted to the FCS ran rampant.

Heck, if Les Miles couldn't even come in and win games, hope was lost.

So when the athletic department hired Lance Leipold ahead of the 2021 season, it felt like just a last-ditch effort to become relevant. Leipold was a Division III coaching legend who had success in the MAC at Buffalo before taking the Kansas job so it wasn't the sexiest hire, but it was one that the athletic department felt like could work.

And then in his first season, the Jayhawks went 2-10 with one Big 12 win and it felt like just more of the same. It felt different, but the results were the same.

But everything changed in 2022. Leipold went 6-7 and led the Jayhawks to a bowl game where they lost, but progress was finally evident. He had gotten his players to buy in and they believed they they could hang with the rest of the conference.

And for the first time since 2007, Kansas was nine games in 2023. It was weird seeing a '9' in the win-loss record and not having it being in the loss column.

Not only did the Jayhawks win nine games, but they did so with their starting quarterback injured for most of the season. The four losses were entirely affected by the starting quarterback, Jalon Daniels, going down with a major injury.

And now Kansas is considered a favorite to win the conference in 2024. That's something that couldn't have even been fathomed even two years ago. Kansas is a legitimate playoff contender and a Big 12 title favorite. That almost doesn't feel right to say.

And it's all because of Leipold.

For some reason, he's not talked about enough nationally but hopefully that changes in 2024 when the Jayhawks win 10-plus games and make a run at the playoff. This success at Kansas would be unprecedented and he'd have all the big jobs ringing his phone -- but I think he's found his home.