Kansas coaching candidates: Lance Leipold, Jeff Monken among top options to replace Les Miles

In the wake of Les Miles’ sudden departure at Kansas on Monday night, the Jayhawks clarified two key items: They will be hiring a coach immediately, and athletic director Jeff Long will be leading the hiring. Miles and KU “mutually agreed” to part ways on Monday with Miles under fire for allegations of misconduct from his time at LSU.

All that terminology means is Miles got to avoid a public “firing,” and he will take home something less than the $8 million buyout that was owed him for a separation without cause. If it had been a firing with cause, Miles’ attorney might have already filed suit.

Forget the idea of an interim coach guiding the Jayhawks through the 2021 season. This time, Long will use a search firm, and he will get to work right away. He’ll have plenty of qualified candidates considering it’s only March. Here’s the top six who could be in line to replace Miles at Kansas.

1. Lance Leipold, Buffalo coach: Leipold is known to have significant interest in Kansas after six seasons at Buffalo (37-33). While there might be better ways to jump to the Power Five, he has won at a distant MAC outpost and has Midwest ties. Leipold has won six Division III national championships, and the Bulls have advanced to two of the last three MAC Championship Games.

2. Jeff Monken, Army coach: Monken apparently finished as the runner-up for the Illinois job that went to Bret Bielema. Clearly, he is looking to move up after eight seasons at Army. Only one other Army coach has won more than Monken’s 49 games since Red Blaik left in 1958. If Kansas is looking for an efficient, buttoned-up program, they’ll get it with Monken. The Black Knights have finished among the top 17 in fewest penalty yards in seven of Monken’s eight seasons. Don’t worry about the ground-based option attack at Army. Monken can adjust. He’ll have to in the Big 12.

3. Willie Fritz, Tulane coach: This might be the third time (or is it fourth?) that Fritz’s name has been brought up for a Kansas opening. He coached high school football (as an assistant) 30 miles away in Overland Park, Kansas. Fritz played at nearby Pittsburg State and coached for 13 seasons at Division II Central Missouri. The Green Wave have been to three straight bowls under Fritz (29-33).

4. Kevin Kane, Illinois associate head coach/outside linebackers coach: Probably a longshot, but Kane has coordinator experience at SMU and Northern Illinois. In 2019, his SMU defense led the country in sacks per game (3.92). Kane played linebacker at Kansas, later became a student assistant for Mark Mangino and was linebackers coach for the Jayhawks under David Beaty in 2015.

5. Sean Lewis, Kent State coach: Lewis is a budding offensive coaching star. The Golden Flashes led the FBS in scoring (49.8 points in four games). If Long wants to vet Lewis, he’d better call Bret Bielema, the coach he fired at Arkansas. Lewis played tight end under Bielema at Wisconsin in 2006-07. Bielema loves the guy.

6. Bill Clark, UAB coach: Perhaps no coach has done more with less. Clark is turning the corner with the Blazers as UAB is opening a new stadium this fall. Still, a Power Five job is a Power Five job, and Kansas did put money and resources into the program while Miles was there. Clark is 51-26 (26-10 Conference USA) with UAB and resurrected the program nearly from scratch after it was unceremoniously grounded by the university ahead of the 2015.

7. Dan Lanning, Georgia defensive coordinator: A budding star who has worked for Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Mike Norvell. Texas and Florida State both reportedly took cracks at Lanning to be their DC in the last two seasons. Lanning knows the territory as a Kansas City native. He recruited Kansas jucos while at Arizona State under Todd Graham.

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