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Why Kansas Jayhawks football coach Lance Leipold is ready for games in KC, KCK



Why Kansas Jayhawks football coach Lance Leipold is ready for games in KC, KCK

Kansas has produced winning, even championship-level, football in its history. But the Jayhawks have shown a tendency to blink immediately after turning in an eyebrow-raising season.

Check this out: In 1968, the Jayhawks shared the Big Eight crown and went 1-9 a year later.

In 1995, KU posted its first 10-victory season in 90 years, and followed it with a 4-7 pratfall — the first of seven straight losing records.

KU appeared to be on the right track in 2008, following its Orange Bowl championship with a successive bowl appearance for the first time. Then, splat. More than a decade in the college football abyss.

Lance Leipold has the look of a change agent. He begins his fourth season as the only coach in program history with more bowl teams to his credit at KU than non-bowl teams.

Enough talent returns to a squad coming off a 9-4 finish and bowl victory to justify the preseason bouquets tossed KU’s way, like being selected to finish fourth in a 16-team Big 12.

There are questions, too. Can quarterback Jalon Daniels halt his injury-ends-season-early streak at two? Can the Jayhawks come up enough answers in their front seven? Can they can protect home turf?

About that last one …

Kansas is about to embark on the strangest of journeys as a college football program without a home. As the university’s $448 million renovation to century-old Memorial Stadium continues, the Jayhawks have made arrangements for temporary lodging, checking into Children’s Mercy Park for two non-conference games and GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium for their four home Big 12 contests.

Sharing space with Sporting KC and the Chiefs is not ideal. Leipold on Wednesday thought of the final seasons for veteran players who have led the Jayhawks’ incredible reversal of fortune.

“We have over 30 seniors, guys who have done an outstanding job helping us get this turned around,” Leipold said. “Part of me feels bad they don’t get to play in Lawrence, Kansas, this year or in the new stadium when it’s renovated.”

Kansas coach Lance Leipold walks through team drills during a practice on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, inside the Jayhawks’ indoor practice facility.

Kansas coach Lance Leipold walks through team drills during a practice on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, inside the Jayhawks’ indoor practice facility.

So, you make the best of the situation, the Jayhawks say. For the Arrowhead games against TCU, Houston, Iowa State and Colorado, it’s a chance for college athletes to play in an NFL stadium. Heck, they’re getting paid like pros, why not complete the experience?

Running back Devin Neal, who last year rushed for 1,209 yards and 15 touchdowns in a second-team All-Big 12 season, is from Lawrence. He grew up a Chiefs fan and was set to attend his first game at Arrowhead last season, until he checked the forecast and passed on the playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.

The wind chill that day was minus-27 at kickoff.

“We saw what the temperature was going to be that night and said no,” Neal said. “But it’s going to be absolutely amazing. Playing on that good grass there … I love playing on grass.”

Neal has visited Children’s Mercy Park. He has a sponsorship through an NIL deal that has taken him to Sporting KC games.

“Extremely intimate,” Neal said of the atmosphere there. “The fans will be close. It will be packed and loud.”

Leipold doesn’t expect much change in routine this fall. Like all major programs, the Jayhawks lodge at a hotel the night before a home game, and where they stay will be about the same distance to their temporary homes as Lawrence.

Kansas has sold out non-league games against Lindenwood and UNLV at Children’s Mercy Park, which will seat about 20,000. Students will occupy the Cauldron area.

Football is no stranger to Children’s Mercy Park, which has been home to a Kansas State spring game and three NCAA Division II national championship games.

And although it will be a new experience for these players, the program has history at Arrowhead. KU has played six games there, the latest in 2011 in the final game in the Missouri series.

The expected crowd is somewhere in the 40,000-45,000 range for the first two Big 12 games, and more than 50,000 for the Cyclones and Buffaloes — more than what a game at KU could hold in the old or renovated home stadium.

Sporting KC and the Chiefs will keep the parking and concession money from the games. Kansas keeps ticket revenue and partners with the pro teams on suite revenue. Some 15 Lawrence Public Schools buses will haul students to the Kansas Cities.

Some stuff remains on the drawing board, like how to get marching bands on the field — NFL and Major League Soccer teams don’t have them. Also still to be worked out is which logos and branding can be painted on the field and the creation of additional space for visiting teams at Children’s Mercy Park.

But Leipold understands that the reward of a new stadium will be worth whatever inconvenience the Jayhawks and their fans experience this fall.

“Do I wish we could have found a way (to play at home during the renovation)? Yes, but it’s not do-able,” he said. “You have to keep moving the program forward for this season and every year.”

To find the winning consistency Kansas has rarely experienced.

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