Leipold makes history at Division III Whitewater

Associated Press

October 24, 2014

In this Oct. 21, 2014, photo, Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold, rear, speaks with running back Ryan Givens, left, and receiver Jake Kumerow in Whitewater, Wis. The Division III coach reached 100 career wins in 106 games, the fastest to the 100-win plateau in NCAA history.

WHITEWATER Lance Leipold has a picturesque view of the football field where he has had so much success.

The Wisconsin-Whitewater coach would arrange his corner office to look out at Perkins Stadium all the time, but he doesn't like people sneaking up behind him. There is little chance of that happening in the record book, either.

The Warhawks' 52-3 victory last week over Wisconsin-Eau Claire gave Leipold 100 wins in just 106 games. No one in NCAA history has reached the 100-win plateau in such a short time.

It's not a luminary such as Alabama's Bear Bryant who holds that record. Or Bobby Bowden. Or Joe Paterno. Or John Gagliardi.

The record belongs to the 50-year-old Leipold, the coach since 2007 at the Division III school in a small southern Wisconsin town about 50 miles west of Milwaukee. He would rather brush past such talk to focus on his job.

In this Oct. 21, 2014, photo, Wisconsin-Whitewater athletic director Amy Edmonds poses for a picture with running back Ryan Givens, center, and receiver Jake Kumerow in Whitewater, Wis. The players are holding the trophy for winning the 2013 Division III football national championship.

"Well, I think there are more (questions) about what's left to do," Leipold said. "What's left to do is we have to beat Oshkosh this week."

Typical Leipold. Senior running back Ryan Givens said there was no mention of the milestone last week leading up to the momentous game. An assistant coach finally brought it up following the convincing win.

Finally, Leipold had to talk about it.

"He said those are really our wins, and we really did a lot to help him get to that point," Givens said. "I guess he just kind of took it for what it was."

No celebratory shower with a bucket of ice water. Then again, Whitewater has done a lot of celebrating since Leipold returned to his alma mater as head coach. The Warhawks have won five Division III national championships since then, beating Mount Union each time.

Whitewater lost the title game to Mount Union in 2008. The only non-playoff year during Leipold's tenure was 2012, when Whitewater finished 7-3 and tied for second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

In this Oct. 21, 2014, photo, Wisconsin-Whitewater college football coach Lance Leipold answers a question outside Perkins Stadium in Whitewater, Wis. The Division III coach reached 100 career wins in 106 games, the fastest to the 100-win plateau in NCAA history.

A former quarterback at Whitewater and native of nearby Jefferson, Leipold came home after spending three seasons as associate head coach at Nebraska-Omaha. Before that, he served as an assistant at Nebraska for three years under Frank Solich. He left after Solich was fired in 2003 following a 9-3 regular season.

That experience soured him, at least temporarily, on the big business side of Bowl Subdivision-level athletics. It was at that point that he focused on landing a head-coaching job in Division II or III.

Leipold's resume also includes a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez, an experience for which he said he would be forever grateful.

It was in Madison, he said, that he learned about some of the qualities needed for success in the upper Midwest.

"You have to have good linemen. You have to be able to run the football. You need to be fundamentally sound," Leipold said. "Those are some of the base foundations that I've taken with me."

All the way back to Whitewater, less than an hour's drive from Madison, where Alvarez is now the Wisconsin athletic director. Leipold was also the offensive coordinator at Whitewater in 1990, four years after graduating, under former coach Bob Berezowitz. He had stints coaching quarterbacks and receivers at Whitewater, too.

Sure, maybe he'll move on some day, or maybe he won't.

"Bigger doesn't always mean better. Sometimes it can, but it's about the right fit, and the right time and this has been a good fit for me," Leipold said.

Whitewater was already pretty good when Leipold took over for Berezowitz, who left after 22 seasons.

Leipold has elevated the program to an elite level. The athletic department overall is enjoying historic success, too.

The men's basketball and baseball teams joined football with Division III national championships in 2013-14 the first time on any collegiate level that one school won titles in those three sports in one season. Add to that a title for women's gymnastics, and athletic director Amy Edmonds called last season "pretty phenomenal."

The success in football helped spur other teams.

"Everyone stated believing, 'Hey, if football won a national championship in the NCAA, we could do that too,'" Edmonds said.

Division III does not award athletic scholarships. But football's success has helped other sports in recruiting. There is an impact on the broader university, too, Edmonds said, with about 2,000 first-year students coming in each year for the past five years.

"We're starting to get a little more attention," she said. Without athletic scholarships it can be hard "to keep up with the Joneses, if you will, in facilities and salaries and what we all have to accomplish with our small budgets."

Leipold has accomplished so much already. He's comfortable in that chair in the corner office.

It has quite the view.

"If it wasn't for the fact that I don't like people walking in behind me," Leipold said, "I probably would face and work this way a lot."