LAWRENCE, Kansas. It’s called “Perfect Discipline” and it’s one of the most intense things I’ve seen in football practice. It’s part gymnastics, part memory game, part Simon Says, and every workout in Kansas this spring ended up like this. The coach would communicate a specific set of commands – always slightly different – to a player of the staff’s choice, and the player would have to communicate it to his teammates. Everyone had to complete a certain number of exercises correctly in a certain amount of time, or the whole team had to do additional training.

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This exercise is all about Lance Leipold and his coaching style. The six-time Division III National Champion maintained a top-notch culture in Wisconsin-Whitewater and built it from the ground up in Buffalo. Now he’s trying to do the same in one of the toughest jobs in college football. Last spring, I visited Lawrence to discuss his challenge of restoring respectability to Kansas football after years in the desert and to uncover the secret behind Leipold’s approach to program building.

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A former UWW quarterback who has worked as an assistant in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Nebraska-Omaha, Leipold took over from his alma mater in 2007 thinking he had found a reasonable and exciting end point for his coaching career.

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“I’m like, you know what? It’s a good life in Division III,” he said. “I’ll keep working and maybe get into administration somewhere along the way.”

The victory changed those plans. His Warhawks won four national titles in five years, and after a small step back in 2012, Leipold hired Andy Kotelnicki as offensive coordinator and the UWW won 30 consecutive games and two more national titles. The time seemed right for a new challenge. He took over as Buffalo head coach in 2015 and brought along Kotelnitsky, defensive coordinator Brian Borland and other assistants.

They found they had a few lessons to learn.

“Context matters because Whitewater, I mean, [Leipold] brought them to a new level of consistency, but they were good,” Kotelnitsky said. – It’s a good job. I think you would call them the blue blood of football Division III. When you are on such a program, there is already a culture, expectations. Children go there because they want to win, and you have competitors there.

“Buffalo had Division I athletes and a Division I work ethic, but no culture. There were no traditions. To be honest, I think we made a lot of mistakes in the first 18 months.”

After debuting 5-7 in 2016, the Leipold Bulls went 2-10 with several players moving on.

“We are ending these 2–10 years and are starting to talk more about culture and explore it more,” Kotelnitsky said. “That spring, we started thinking seriously about what culture is—how we establish it and, more specifically, how we define it.”

How do do you define it?