McPherson College football strong safety and former Marion High School quarterback Mitchell Leppke wants to coach college football when his playing days are over.
Leppke has used the off-season to initiate contacts with some of college football’s top names, seeking advice that will help him achieve his goal.
But when Lee Corso from ESPN’s College GameDay called recently, Leppke may have scored more points with his girlfriend, Jessica Vincent of Hutchinson, than with the former college and pro coach.
Leppke was having lunch at a restaurant with Vincent when he received a call from an unfamiliar number.
“The man on the other end of the line said, ‘This is Lee Corso from ESPN. I see here you want to get into coaching and I’d like to answer any questions you have,’” Leppke said.
Many would have stopped whatever they were doing for a call from a high-profile sports celebrity, but not Leppke.
“I told him I was at lunch with my girlfriend in the middle of a crowded restaurant; I asked him if I could call him back in 20 minutes,” Leppke said.
“He laughed and said, ‘20 minutes? You’d better give your girlfriend a lot more than 20 minutes, you better give her all afternoon!’” Leppke said.
When he graduated from MHS in 2009, Leppke wanted to teach and coach. But a season with the McPherson College Bulldogs football team motivated Leppke to focus on coaching at the college level.
Once Leppke became serious about college coaching, making contacts with people in the profession became a priority.
“One thing I heard constantly was that getting into coaching collegiately is about who you know, the connections you make and the network you build,” Leppke said.
As a sophomore, Leppke started writing to coaches with roots in or connections to Kansas. Among the 20 he sought out were Dennis Franchione of Texas State; Gary Patterson of Texas Christian; Big 10 coaches Brett Bielema of Wisconson, Jerry Kill of Minnesota, and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State; and Bill Snyder and Joe Bob Clements at Kansas State.
“I got back some great responses,” Leppke said.
Encouraged by his initial success, once this past football season was over, Leppke jumped back into letter-writing full force, this time sending out 110 letters.
“I’ve written to assistants, head coaches in the NFL and NCAA, athletic directors, recruiting coordinators, directors of football operations, and graduate assistants, searching for any advice I can get and getting my name out,” Leppke said.
University of Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has arranged a phone conference with Leppke in March, and Franchione and Clements have said they will arrange meetings with him this summer.
Leppke reviewed what he has learned from his contacts so far.
“The common themes were to learn more than just your position, learn the defense, study offenses, learn why coaches make the calls they do, learn the organization of a program, understand the time commitment it takes to be successful — and of course to network,” Leppke said.
Observing coaches for whom he’s played also has contributed to Leppke’s knowledge.
One coach, McPherson College defensive coordinator Mike Silva, displayed many of the qualities Leppke would like to emulate.
“He related incredibly well with players, he’s able to teach, keep it fun, but keep it a business-like atmosphere,” Leppke said. “When he walks into a room people respect him.”
Leppke isn’t focused on coaching a specific level of college football, and is open to whatever opportunity comes his way following graduation from McPherson in 2013.
“My goal isn’t really to become a head coach at a huge school,” Leppke said. “When I do get my first coaching job, my goal is to be the best coach I can be and let the rest take care of itself.”