Short postgame exchange between Leipold, Logan a positive sign for Kansas football's future
For most of the 2021 Kansas football season, one question weighed on my mind more than any other.
On Sunday, mere hours after the Jayhawks’ stunning, 57-56 overtime victory at Texas, one video may have answered it.
The question: No matter how qualified or “right” first-year KU coach Lance Leipold is for the monster challenge that is coaching football at Kansas, how is he going to get his most talented players to stick around through a treacherous rebuild when the rules allow any of them to leave for perceived greener pastures at any time?
The answer: Evidently, it’s love.
Any time that question entered my mind, my thoughts immediately went to junior safety Kenny Logan Jr., a talented and tough player who no doubt could play for just about any program in the country.
Logan’s had a great year. He leads the team in tackles, heart and personality and has been one of the true bright spots in another losing season.
There’s little doubt that Logan has enjoyed his time as a Jayhawk. But in the three years he has been with the program, the Jayhawks have won just five games — four heading into last Saturday — and been on the wrong end of so many lopsided outcomes.
There’s not a person around the KU program who would not love to see Logan finish his career in crimson and blue. But after recent drubbings at the hands of Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — not to mention a never-in-it loss to in-state rival Kansas State — I started to wonder if Logan himself would want stick around for his senior season or if he’d go the way of Marcus Harris, Da’Jon Terry and Karon Prunty, who all entered the transfer portal in search of a new opportunity after last season.
The idea of trying to rebuild a college football program from the ground up in the transfer portal era makes it a far tougher challenge than anything anyone has ever seen. Being successful will have to be as much about relationships as it is X's and O's.
The video is just 20 seconds long, but it features a special moment between Logan and Leipold, who are shown embracing and soaking up last Saturday’s victory.
“I love you coach,” Logan says.
“I love you, too,” Leipold responds.
“I appreciate you,” Logan adds.
“I appreciate you,” Leipold replies.
The two then share their thoughts about how the win over Texas was merely a “small step” in KU’s turnaround, with Logan calling it a “stepping stone.”
“It’s just the beginning,” Leipold adds. “Now, I’ll give you a little warning; I’ll be harder on you next week than I was before. I love you, man.”
It’s that kind of bond, between a player and coach, that can make this rebuild possible.
Those two have been around each other for barely six months, and during several of those weeks, the bitter taste of losing has been the story. But Logan and Leipold have clearly developed a deep connection, and their willingness to keep grinding and trust one another led to the win over Texas.
“Kenny’s got such great personality and charisma,” Leipold said earlier this month. “He’s such a likable person and he connects with so many different people. That’s the thing that’s impressive. That’s just what he’s about. His passion for the game, and for our team to be successful, is really there.”
The strength of their relationship surfaced early, with both Logan and Leipold first sharing their respect and admiration for one another back in July and August. They’re opposites in many ways, but both are brimming with energy, optimism and a relentless spirit.
That made their bond click quickly. Their ability to show up week after week with a smile on their faces and the passion to lead others to do the same has strengthened it and this team.
Earlier this month, I asked Leipold about the importance of Logan’s role in KU’s rebuilding plans, and the first-year KU coach did not hide his perspective.
“(KU strength coach) Matt Gildersleeve and I have talked a lot with him (about) how he’s viewed and what (his) role is and what that does for our program, now and for the future,” Leipold said. “I think he’s starting to understand that more and more and embracing that.
“He is a key component (for) the rest of this season. He will be very important during the offseason and the continuation of building our program.”
Logan’s talent and leadership factored into that answer. And Leipold said Logan, as much as anyone, has shown constant growth throughout what has been another tough season.
He’s always showed up to compete. But in the past month or so, he has started to understand more about Leipold’s approach. He also has become more comfortable in KU’s defensive scheme and that has allowed him to play faster and make more plays.
Others have done that, as well. And Leipold and company are counting on enough current players making those strides to get this thing turned around.
What they weren’t counting on, though — and didn’t even know they had when they arrived — was a player like Logan to lead the effort.
Win or lose, on good days and bad, Logan presents himself as a player and a person who simply loves being around football. That kind of attitude can become contagious, and when you get enough guys thinking and acting that same way, that’s when big strides can be made.
“I think he’s kind of special in that way,” Leipold said. “He’s always around the building, he’s always around people that are in this organization. He would rather be in this building than sitting in his apartment.
“I don’t know if Kenny would like a lot of Kennys around him, though,” the coach added with a laugh. “I’m joking.”