CU Buffs coaching search: AD Rick George needs to find his own Lance Leipold, experts say

Brock Huard’s first piece of advice for CU athletic director Rick George?

Save words such as “powerhouse” and “greatness,” terms the Buffs administrator used recently to describe the ceiling of his 0-5 football program, for the boosters. And the pep rallies.

“(CU football) is much more like a Kansas than it is an Oklahoma,” Huard, the FOX Sports college football analyst and former Washington Huskies quarterback told The Post when asked about the Buffs’ current vacancy at football coach. “It’s not to (Kansas’) depths, but take the pandemic season (2020) out and how many winning seasons do they have this century?”

That would be five. And if we apply the same barometer to the Jayhawks, KU has three.

“Do coaches look at that job and go, ‘Oh, there’ve been some pretty good people in there, there’ve been some pretty smart football guys,’” Huard continued, “ ‘and they’ve had two winning seasons since (2005)?’ Take the pandemic year out, and things sort of write themselves.”

It’s early October 2022 and five Power 5 athletic departments — including the Buffs, who let Karl Dorrell go on Oct. 2 with 60% of the regular season left to play — are out looking for their next full-time football coach.

Some big fishes, too. According to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics’ database, the median athletic expenditure by a Power 5, or “Autonomy 5” public school in 2021 was $103.9 million.

Of the five heavy-hitters — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Arizona State, Georgia Tech and CU — looking for a new coach, only the Yellow Jackets and Buffs spent significantly less than that Power 5 median, with expenses of $85.9 million and $64.6 million, respectively. (Arizona State’s expenditures reportedly hit $103.8 million, or just below the mark.)

Within that subset, the Buffs’ spending power ranked fifth out of five, comparatively. Could that put a damper on expectations for a splashy hire before the process has really cranked up? Or does it raise the level of urgency to try and snap up a quality candidate quicker than you’d like?

“The parallel job, if you’re looking for a coach, is Utah,” Big Ten Network analyst and former CU offensive coordinator Gerry DiNardo told The Post. “(Utes coach) Kyle Whittingham has made up for whatever deficiencies Utah has. Kyle Whittingham has somehow found a way to beat USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington.

“We know that USC and UCLA are leaving (the Pac-12), so just looking at the facts, if we had (CU peaking) as the (fifth-best) program in the league, (if the Big Ten takes two more schools), it goes up to No. 3.

“So yeah, it’s a good job. It’s not a great job. It wasn’t a great job when we won a national championship (under coach Bill McCartney in 1990). Our budget was small. We had all kinds of obstacles. But it worked.”

Former CU star Phillip Lindsay wore two key things other than a smile late last Thursday night at Empower Field after helping his Indianapolis Colts stun the Broncos in overtime, 12-9. The first was a Buffaloes cap. The second was a matching black CU zip hoodie.

“(The campus), it’s beautiful,” Lindsay said of his former school and its football future. “The thing is, once you can get kids to CU, they’ll stay. They’ll stay. It’s about the culture.”

In this case, though, it might be more about finding a candidate who can create a new one.

Which brings us to Huard’s other suggestion for George and CU: Go find your own Lance Leipold.

Leipold, 58, took the Kansas Jayhawks into a home tussle with TCU on Saturday with a 5-0 record and a top 25 ranking in just his second season at the helm.

“I can’t say for sure that a Dan Mullen or the guys with a prominent background would be intrigued by (the opening),” Huard continued. “Mr. George is going to have to be creative. He’s going to have to do some digging. He’s going to have to find the next Leipold, in that they’re ready-made or proven.”

What Huard likes most about what Leipold’s done with the football in basketball-mad Lawrence is import staff continuity. The veteran head coach brought his offensive and defensive coordinators with him from Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) to Buffalo (Group of 5), then to Kansas (Power 5). As a trio, they’ve won at every rung on the ladder.

Dorrell, meanwhile, inherited both of his coordinators upon his hiring in late February 2020. He eventually replaced then-defensive coordinator Tyson Summers before the 2021 season and did the same with then-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini almost immediately after the 2021 season.

The Buffs’ offense took off early in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but like most CU units, began to flag after Dorrell’s 4-0 start that autumn.

“You’re going to have to find somebody like that, if you’re Rick George, where it’s not just a head coach — there’s a system, a synergy, between the head coach and the offensive and defensive coordinators.”

Huard said he’d rank the open CU job as even with Arizona State, but behind Wisconsin and Nebraska, given their bigger budgets and Big Ten security.

“I think ASU and CU are 3a and 3b,” Huard said. “I don’t think there’s a clear bronze medal in that (scenario). I think both of those (schools) have challenges, they both have conference realignment challenges and they both have had some real struggles over the last couple of decades.”

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