It’s official, friends. Kansas has hired former Buffalo Bulls Coach Lance Leipold as the Head Coach of the Jayhawks Football Team. Happy as I am to have Saint Monken continue on as Head Football Coach at our own rockbound highland home, I confess that I can’t help but feel for the man as well.
Welcome to KU, @CoachLeipold 🤝
— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) April 30, 2021
All other factors aside, Coach Monken clearly wants to test himself at the Power 5 level, and it’s hard to argue in good faith that he hasn’t earned that opportunity. He may very well feel as though he’s done what he set out to do at West Point, and despite my personal misgivings about the strength of Army’s 2021 schedule, that’s a fair point. Monken’s teams have beaten Navy four out of the last five years, have won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy three out of the last four years, and have seen the winningest class in Army Football’s illustrious history enter the Academy, train, fight, win, and then graduate onto bigger and better things. Monken has sent three former players into the NFL, none of whom were particularly prized recruits coming out of high school. If he stays three more years, he may yet double that number — or even triple it. Truth is, Army Football is in good shape. AD Mike Buddie said on our very show that were Monken to leave tomorrow, Buddie himself would have a template in place for the coaching search thanks to the success of Monken’s tenure.
Worse, time is not necessarily on Coach Monken’s side. Consider the cautionary tale of Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun. Calhoun has had about as much success as one could reasonably expect from a service academy football coach. And yet, it’s been a good long while since Air Force has hosted the CiC Trophy, and with that, we haven’t heard Coach Calhoun’s name in connection with a Power 5 job in years. The last time was, what, 2016? Maybe 2017? At one time, Calhoun seemed hot to leave Air Force and try his hand in the Power 5. Colorado newspapers crowed that Air Force’s biggest offseason achievement was “keeping Calhoun”. Now, though, it looked distinctly like he might’ve missed his window. No one’s looking for Calhoun to do anything but coach at Air Force.
Similarly, Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo also seems to have fallen into the position of Head Football Coach For Life. That, at least, is a choice he seems to have made for himself. We sincerely hope he’s happy. His choice appears irrevocable.
— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) May 1, 2021
Indeed, the biggest issue with this Kansas adventure isn’t that it happened but rather its timing. Spring Football is over. The playbooks are in. Any change now creates an at least partial reboot, necessitating lost time and confusion amidst critical preparations for next year. At West Point in particular, that lost time would be difficult to overcome.
Rumors out of Kansas claimed that Coach Monken had planned to take DC Nate Woody with him but leave Army’s offensive staff in place. Maybe that would’ve worked, too. Army fans would’ve been justifiably concerned about the loss of the mastermind who oversaw last year’s top-ranked defense, but that side of the ball returns a lot of talent. They might’ve pulled together. But then again, they also might not, and against a blistered 2021 schedule.
It was, at best, a dicey proposition.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) April 30, 2021
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) May 1, 2021
Worse, the outlook was no better at Kansas. Kansas boosters have been transparently fighting each other in the press over Monken’s potential tenure — an ominous sign. Add in the late start, tepid support, and the potential for internal sabotage, and it’s distinctly possible that Monken might’ve shot his shot in Lawrence, only to disappear into coaching obscurity. It’s telling that he had to offer to abandon his beloved flexbone triple-option offense in order to make his proposed tenure more palatable to a certain sect of Kansas boosters. Were he to put in a couple of years of anonymous underachievement, he might well have disappeared into coaching obscurity. Honestly, the outlook did not look great. I mean, people thought a lot of Coach Les Miles until only very recently. If the Jayhawks and Miles’s own hubris can lay a man with his pedigree low, well, that too is a cautionary tale worth heeding. And that’s before we consider what happened to former wunderkin Charlie Weiss.
Seriously. Kansas has had exactly one winning coach since 1953. That was Mark Mangino, who went 50-48 from 2002 to 2009, with exactly one exceptional season in 2007. Then, like Les Miles, Mangino resigned in disgrace amidst an investigation into his coaching practices. As I said on Twitter, it’s a fine line between proving the haters wrong and willingly walking into an ambush.
Through all of this, I’ve made my peace with the fact that Coach Monken is probably going to leave West Point — eventually. We joke about building him a statue, but what the man himself wants also matters. Indeed, I find that I hope that he gets his shot now, and sooner rather than in the fullness of time. However, I cannot shake the sense that this was simply the wrong opportunity, coming manifestly at the wrong time. In that, Leipold was always the safer option, and especially since this is likely a no-win situation, “safe” might well have been the better way to go.
— Danno E. Cabeza (@DannoECabeza) April 30, 2021
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) May 1, 2021
I’m quite sure that Coach Monken is at least somewhat disappointed, at least privately. However, the evidence suggests that he also just dodged a bullet.