Hayes: Michigan State could, and should, make it really hard for Kansas' Lance Leipold to say no
He could be the exception. He could stand on his word and embrace all things Kansas, and this and every other job opening just goes away.
Or Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold could get struck by the realization that he is in the middle of preparing to play rival Kansas State with a 3rd string quarterback, and what could’ve been a special season is teetering entering the matchup of 7-3 teams.
“It is our plan and our expectation that we want to be here,” Leipold said during his weekly radio show, “and this is going to be the last job that we have.”
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That’s about as definite as it gets. Until it’s not.
Until Michigan State backs up a truck full of cash and forces Leipold to make a choice between coaching in the upper Midwest — in the beloved Big Ten, about 6 hours around the long southern bend of Lake Michigan from where he was born and raised in Jefferson County, Wisconsin — and staying and fighting an uphill battle at Kansas.
Because make no mistake, that’s what it is.
The Kansas administration has committed to make the job better, restructuring Leipold’s deal to pay him $5 million per for the next 7 years and planning an overhaul of the football facilities. The basketball school, everyone, is serious about football.
One problem: KU is in the Big 12. Michigan State is in the Big Ten.
With each passing year that Big Ten schools receive $80 million annually in media rights money and Big 12 schools receive half of that, the stark monetary differences between the 2 conferences will drive a deep, distinguishing wedge between the haves and have-nots of college football.
Between those who can and can’t legitimately win a national title. And it’s only going to get worse once players begin to receive a share of media rights revenue, and budgets at non-Big Ten/SEC schools are squeezed, and programs are then reimagined.
That’s what this is all about, and what every coaching change moving forward for a majority of coaches will be all about. Is this a program that can legitimately get to the new 12-team Playoff and win it?
That’s the now stark decision for many of the game’s elite coaches who aren’t part of the 34 programs from the SEC and Big Ten bathing in media rights cash beginning in 2024.
Both coaches in Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown are high on the list of candidates for the Michigan State job. They’ve both won national championships in the NCAA’s lower divisions — Leipold at Wisconsin-Whitewater, K-State’s Chris Klieman at North Dakota State — and they have track records of successful buildouts.
Klieman won the Big 12 last season, and Leipold has brought KU back from the FBS graveyard — and but for injuries to starting QB Jalon Daniels and backup Jason Bean, could be playing November games to reach the Big 12 Championship Game.
They’re both candidates at Michigan State, and depending on what other jobs open up, could be among the top candidates for those as well. But the Michigan State job is different.
Mark Dantonio not only proved you can win the Big Ten at Michigan State (and advance to the Playoff), but showed it can be done with rivals Ohio State and Michigan playing at a high level. The Spartans experienced it all under Dantonio: conference championships, the Rose Bowl, the Playoff.
Kansas’ last conference championship was in 1968.
If Michigan State truly wants Leipold — and frankly, why wouldn’t the Spartans? — it will more than likely cost what the Spartans were paying fired coach Mel Tucker ($9.5 million annually). If you’re willing to pay a coach $95 million guaranteed over 10 years after 3 seasons as a head coach (only 2 with Michigan State), what are you willing to pay Leipold — who has been successful everywhere he has coached?
Force Leipold to say no with an offer that doubles his salary and is guaranteed, that places him among the FBS earnings elite in the Big Ten, and in a program that can legitimately compete for a national title.
“The one thing that happens this time of year, is there’s a lot of speculation, and things that are happening that are not accurate,” Leipold said on his radio show.
Leipold may publicly praise the KU administration for the way they have treated his family. He no doubt believes it, and feels a sense of loyalty to the Jayhawks.
But at the end of the day, he’s a football coach, and he wants to win championships. He wants to compete at the highest level of the game.
The “plan” and “expectation” to stay at Kansas is heartfelt.
But the reality of Michigan State may be too strong to pass up.