Kansas City high school football coaches on region's best recruiters, impact of NIL and more (2024)

When it comes to high school football recruiting, the greater Kansas City area serves as a fascinating study because of its intersection for college programs across three major conferences: the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. The talent is there. And so is the competition for players.

Which coaches and programs excel in the area, and which could be better? We talked to eight high school head coaches across the Kansas City area, representing both public and private schools, for their perspectives. They were granted anonymity in exchange for their candor.

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(Check out our other recruiting confidential stories.)

What are your impressions of Lance Leipold and his staff at Kansas?

Coach 1: The thing I like about coach Leipold is he’s a true football coach. It’s not this glitz and glamor they tried the last couple with Charlie (Weis) and with Les (Miles). Not that they weren’t good coaches, but I felt like those guys were at the tail end of their careers. Leipold is a guy that you could tell is hungry, and I hate to say younger because he’s not a young coach. But a hungry guy wanting to do great things.

Coach 2: He seems to me to be a no-nonsense guy that isn’t going to kiss anybody’s ass, for lack of a better word. He’s just going to do what needs to be done. And if you don’t like the way it is, then maybe you ought to find something else to do.

Coach 3: He’s got a real down-to-earth approach to things. He’s a guy that’s worked his way up the ladder. Sometimes you run into college coaches, head coaches more so than anybody else, that are flying around on private jets and they’re movers and shakers and multi-millionaires. With that comes a lot of bravado. It’s nice when you run into head coaches that are a little bit more down-to-earth, level-headed ones you can have conversations with and open dialogue with. That kind of represents what coach Leipold and his staff are like.

Coach 4: It just seems like since he got there, there’s been a much bigger presence in frequency. We may not send as many kids there overall as some of the other schools around the area. But they are in our schools and they are recruiting our kids and inviting them to camps and doing different things to try to get their foot in the door and kind of get some guys headed over to Lawrence.

Coach 6: KU has never been competitive until coach Leipold’s staff. I think it’s the overall character of the men on his staff. They’re just good solid people. He has a smaller school vibe to him. He’ll tell you he’s a Division III coach. He embraces the character development in his program and he’s worried about the whole student-athlete as opposed to just getting five-stars and four-stars. They’re working tirelessly to make sure they canvass the area, whereas Kansas’ staffs in the past have not done that.

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Coach 8: Coach Leipold is a class act, and the entire staff is very good. An interesting thing they did to start when he first got hired, they didn’t have the same area recruiter. A different coach would come in, like each week, just to stop in and see. At that point, we didn’t have anybody that they were necessarily actively recruiting, but it was just the way that they got to everybody.

Kansas City high school football coaches on region's best recruiters, impact of NIL and more (1)

Lance Leipold is 15-11 in the last two seasons at Kansas. (Denny Medley / USA Today)

What are your impressions of Eli Drinkwitz and his staff at Missouri?

Coach 1: Drink has a lot of energy. He can be pretty aggressive on the recruiting trail, which is good. You have to be. But he wants to prove himself as a really strong Power 5 head coach, which obviously this past year they had a great year and he deservedly received some nice accolades for that. I just feel from Drinkwitz that he’s going to work really hard at it and he has a pretty big personality. I can see why he’s successful on the recruiting trail with kids.

Coach 2: You see this guy at a bar, you’re not going, “SEC head coach.” But talking to his assistants, he does have a great plan. They realize it’s going to work. That’s the whole key, is having a plan and getting people to buy into it. It’s that simple. That’s probably his strength, at least listening to his guys.

Coach 3: They’ve got their eyes set on SEC championships, and I think they very much take that approach to it. They’ve been a little bit more — standoffish is not the right word — but they haven’t been as eager to build those relationships with high school coaches, or at least with me, as let’s say five, 10 years ago. I think a lot of that has to do with the transfer portal and where their program is at. I don’t think it’s necessarily a knock on them with how they treat high school coaches overall. I just don’t think there’s been that, “Hey, call me if you need anything” type of approach. Sometimes I hear from somebody. Sometimes I don’t. There’s never really a reason as to why.

Coach 4: They’re outstanding. He does a good job of making sure that he is in the school. Coach Drink will come by every time he gets a chance to, and I know they’re limited on how many times they can come into a school. But he definitely comes in and he does a great job of visiting with the kids when he can and really creating that personal touch and making sure those kids know they want them to come to Missouri.

Coach 6: We have some Power 4-type players and so they have been in our building a few times this season. And I’m just getting to know their staff. I’m really fond of Erik Link, who is their tight ends and special teams coach. I really like all the guys on the staff we’ve met. I’ve only met Drink one time.

Coach 7: Coach Drink is a very creative guy. He’s done a great job with just creating excitement. I know last year was a big year for them. He’s evolving as a coach. I think he has learned that just being the head coach and overseeing the program and not worrying about calling plays has made them a better program.

What are your impressions of Chris Klieman and his staff at Kansas State?

Coach 1: He is a blue-collar grinder. Doesn’t want the spotlight, just wants to coach football. And he’s going to make sure and cross those T’s and dot those I’s and is very much like Bill Snyder was. He’s going to be very thorough. He’s going to be very honest. I can see why he’s been very successful.

Coach 2: They make their living off of just common guys and mixed in obviously with great players. For so many years, the K-State brand has been building people. And in today’s culture, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to get somebody and build them because they might not be there after you’ve invested time in them. I think that’s been their motto, and he’s carried that on from Snyder in his own way of just building.

Coach 3: Very down to earth. One of their coaches, (offensive coordinator) Conor Riley, recruits the area and does a fantastic job. Very personable. Always willing to, whether you have a player or not, “Hey, I just want to stop by, touch base with you.” I think that’s what a lot of high school coaches appreciate about K-State.

Coach 4: I think coach Klieman has just got that personal touch. I don’t know if it’s from him coming from North Dakota State and his background of the way he recruited there. But the same thing that he did there, he does it at K-State. They’re really just looking for high-quality character kids. They really do a good job of expressing that, not only to the coaches when they come in to recruit but also to the players when they visit with them.

Coach 6: It’s what’s expected out of their staff. Chris is a super high-character guy, has awesome people on his staff and people that aren’t just looking at football ability and athletic achievement; they’re wanting to train the whole athlete. I was super excited when he got the job, and I’m 100 percent not surprised by the success he’s had.

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Coach 7: Those guys came from North Dakota State and won all those championships up there. And (Klieman’s) come down here and kind of reinvigorated K-State the last couple years. They do a really good job of recruiting Kansas City and also building relationships with the coaches and the players. I have a lot of kids that I push to go to their camps, and they really like it up there.

What other programs stand out for how they recruit the area?

Coach 1: If you get in that 500 or so mile radius, Nebraska has come back strong with (Matt) Rhule in our area and (linebackers coach Rob) Dvoracek and (E.J.) Barthel, the running back coach. Iowa has always had a good presence with their coaches, and they’ve always been really good. Iowa State’s always been around and they’ve done a nice job. I hated to see (Nathan) Scheelhaase head out to the NFL because I thought he was really good. But (Matt) Campbell has made his presence felt in Kansas City.

Coach 2: We’ve had everybody. We’ve had Notre Dame, Alabama. I was impressed with a lot of them, honestly. I loved the way the Oregon head coach, (Dan) Lanning, put it back on my guy. Like, he asked him, “What do you want?” My guy is, “Well, I’m going to look at the depth chart.” And he goes, “Oh, so you think you can get to the pros by going to some place and not competing for a job?” I thought that was pretty interesting. He threw it back on the kid, which most people don’t do anymore. They don’t want to piss off the kid and lose him.

Coach 3: Dan Lanning at the University of Oregon is a Kansas City guy. I’ve known him for a very long time, and he has that same relationship with a lot of the Kansas City area. Then you also have Willie Fritz at the University of Houston. He’s a Kansas City guy. Dave Doeren out at NC State, he’s a Bishop Miege, Kansas City guy. I think of Phil Longo up at the University of Wisconsin, he very much has that Midwest, “I’m only a phone call away.”

Kansas City high school football coaches on region's best recruiters, impact of NIL and more (2)

Oregon has been a strong presence in the area thanks to coach Dan Lanning, a Kansas City native. (Troy Wayrynen / USA Today)

Coach 4: Iowa State is really good. They do an outstanding job of being down here. It will be interesting with coach Scheelhaase, who was there for a while and now he left, he was a Kansas City guy and he recruited the area really well. They just have an incredible program that is another program that develops players.

Coach 6: I’d love to give a ton of credit to coach Rhule’s Nebraska staff. They’ve just done a fantastic job, and it’s a change. In the past, they’ve kind of paid lip service to recruiting (the area), and they’ve been very thorough and very genuine in recruiting recently.

Coach 7: South Dakota State, they do a great job coming down here, coach (Robbie) Rouse is our recruiter out here. He’s always done a great job of building relationships, not only with me but with the kids as well.

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Coach 8: Nebraska does a good job of kind of getting out there. Iowa State’s great. (Nationally), they’re only coming in if they see a kid that they want. (USC coach) Lincoln Riley landed a plane, came up for five minutes, just to say hi. It’s just crazy how much money and how much stuff they can move around. And if they want the kid there, they’re gonna be really, really good at it.

Who is the best recruiting head coach you’ve dealt with?

Coach 1: There’s something about Matt Rhule. His relatability, his genuineness. He seems like a guy that when you talk to him, he’s really listening and cares what you’re saying to him. Not that the others don’t. But there’s more of that with him. I’ve just been really impressed with him. And I can see why he has done what he’s done at the college level and what he’s about to do at Nebraska.

Coach 3: I think hands down that I’ve dealt with would be Willie Fritz. Locally, I think K-State, KU do a very good job. I think MU has a lot of irons in the fire. Obviously, we deal with area recruiters just as much. But Lanning, Fritz, Leipold and Klieman I think do a fantastic job.

Coach 4: Coach Drink. I think coach (Barry) Odom has done a great job. At each stop he was at — Missouri, then Arkansas and now at UNLV — he’s always been so visible at our school and in Kansas City. And I think he’s kind of created the same pipeline out to UNLV and just has done an outstanding job of recruiting kids and just kind of knowing the area. His background of being at Mizzou for so long just gives him a leg up on some of those guys.

Coach 5: It’s got to be between K-State and Iowa State. It’s just the personal touch that they had being head coaches and coming into your building and kind of seeing those kids. Just to see those guys in the building and care for those kids that they’ve offered, I think is a really good touch in the recruiting process.

Coach 6: The best recruiting head coach I’ve dealt with so far is probably coach Klieman. I’ve only met with Drink one time and he was fantastic in the meeting, but coach Leipold is a very genuine friendly guy. Coach Rhule was very accommodating and an open book when he came in and just seemed very honest and real. I’ve gotten to know the Iowa staff over the years pretty well, and they’ve always recruited us pretty heavily.

Coach 7: Coach Klieman I would say probably does the best job I feel like in terms of getting kids at K-State for game day visits and getting them to camps and getting them excited, where a lot of kids feel like that’s a place where they want to go. I hear that more out of K-State than Mizzou and KU, I would say.

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Coach 8: We have three amazing schools right now with amazing people leading their programs. I don’t know that you can go back and look at KU, K-State and Mizzou and think there’s ever been a time where all three of them have been this good as they are right now. It all starts with their head coaches.

Which assistant coaches stand out for how they recruit?

Coach 1: I love Conor Riley at K-State who comes through. I really liked coach (Andy) Kotelnicki when he was at KU, but he’s now at Penn State. I thought Jordan Peterson when he was at KU did a really nice job, and he’s now down at Texas A&M. Erik Link over at Missouri has come over and done a really nice job. And like I said, Nebraska with Dvoracek and Matt Rhule. And then Iowa State, Scheelhaase was doing a great job, but he’s not there now.

Coach 3: You get a lot more assistant coaches kind of rolling in and out. So I think longevity is something that is always nice. Conor Riley has always had the Kansas City area. I think he does a fantastic job. Jake Schoonover down at Ole Miss, he does a fantastic job.

Coach 4: My top one would have been Nathan Scheelhaase, but he left. He was outstanding. Coach Dvoracek up at Nebraska. He’s outstanding. He’s the linebackers guy and does our recruiting area here. He still comes down and checks in, even if we don’t have players. Another guy that does a great job is coach Miguel Chavis at Oklahoma. He’s the D-line coach there. Great personality, connects with kids just like coach Drink. He’s going to be a guy that I think will be a head coach soon. He’s just got that ability to connect with these kids and get them to buy in.

Coach 5: I really liked coach (Blake) Baker at Mizzou (now defensive coordinator at LSU). He would sit and just talk ball. The Iowa State and the K-State guys do a really good job of just coming in and sitting down and answering questions. Iowa State and K-State are the two top ones that stood out.

Coach 6: At KU, the guy that was in our building the most is now at Penn State. Andy Kotelnicki did a fantastic job recruiting our building. And then at K-State, Taylor Braet. Everyone knows his story and how much of a true Kansan he is.

Coach 7: Erik Link from Mizzou. He’s always done a great job of reaching out about kids, and if I need anything, I can reach out to him. He’s always done a really good job of just building that bridge with us.

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Coach 8: Coach (Conor) Riley’s the Kansas City guy at K-State. He’s been an amazing recruiter. He was the Kansas City guy when he was at North Dakota State.

Which schools should be doing a better job of recruiting the greater Kansas City area and why?

Coach 1: I’m a little surprised that the Colorados of the world, those kinds of schools that aren’t that far away, that there’s not more of a Kansas City presence. Maybe they spend a lot more time in Texas and out west. But I would think they can do well in Kansas City and St. Louis because Missouri is a pretty good football state. And then the eastern side of the Big Ten Conference you don’t see much. You’re not going to see Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland. But you’re going to see the western Big Ten: Illinois, Iowa and all them.

Coach 3: I’ve never spoken to a Missouri State coach up until about a year ago. I know that’s an FCS school. But they’re starting to get in this area a little bit more with the new staff that they have, which is fantastic. I would love to see Arkansas come up a little bit more. Same thing with Oklahoma. They will get involved in the area when they know that there’s a Power 5 kid involved.

Coach 5: Missouri State, especially now that they’re (FBS). I think that they probably need to do a better job of getting into Kansas City and kind of establishing a footprint here. A lot of kids that I think they miss are going to North Dakota State and playing that FCS ball, which is fine. There’s a lot of kids that they miss because they don’t really come in here and set the tone in Kansas City.

Coach 6: OU was here quite a bit this spring, but that’s really the first time they’ve been heavy in our building. I know with the state of Texas and the state of Oklahoma, the talent level and the availability of quality high school players, that they don’t feel like they need to come up to Kansas City as much. So I would say both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Coach 7: Northwest Missouri State. They’ve kind of fallen off a little bit for sure the last couple years, and it shows. They’re not really getting into the playoffs. They were a big-time school in the Kansas City area for a long time, and a lot of kids were choosing to go there over some D-Is in the past.

Coach 8: (Iowa and Michigan are) not going to come down here unless they think there’s somebody down here. I’m not saying they’re all necessarily Power 5 guys, but there’s some really good football players that I think some of the Division II guys should be better at checking in on.

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Which Group of 5 or lower-level schools stand out?

Coach 2: We’ve gotten an influx of the (FCS) schools. Those guys are recruiting like the Power 5 used to. They’re hitting Kansas City and seeing who you got. We have had several, probably half a dozen kids that have gone to (the Missouri Valley Conference). Those are the ones that are doing a good job recruiting the Kansas City area and starting to come in more and more. The big schools, they’re not coming here unless we’ve got somebody they know that can fit their needs. They don’t have that kind of time.

Coach 4: Your Missouri Valley schools I think do a good job. North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa. Those schools just do an outstanding job of coming through Kansas City each and every year trying to communicate with coaches and making sure they’re getting in, seeing guys and inviting them up to camps.

Coach 5: The MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) schools do a really good job around Kansas City. I think that’s why they have been successful, because they do come in and get those fringe kids. Pitt State does a fairly decent job. I think Kent State (has) done a good job of being a MAC school that kind of stands out when they come to Kansas City.

Coach 6: It’s the best Division II football in the country, the MIAA conference, and we see all of those schools quite a bit. We have a great relationship with the Northwest Missouri State staff. They all do such a fantastic job and the relationships are there. We’re all friendly.

Coach 7: Pitt State and UCM (Central Missouri) right now are really hot. UCM with coach (Josh Lamberson), they’ve done a really good job and turned that program around to where they are winning conference championships and getting into the playoffs. And Pitt State has really made that big turn. They’ve just done a great job of getting Pitt State back where they need to be, and a lot of that is recruiting Kansas City high schools pretty hard.

Coach 8: In Kansas City, we have more of a bed of recruits that are more like Division II-type kids in the MIAA. It’s hard for Missouri State to come up and get a kid when you have a program like Northwest Missouri State, who is almost as good. Missouri Western with the Chiefs getting tied into them (has) some of the best facilities you can imagine.

In what ways has NIL and the transfer portal impacted high school football recruiting in the Kansas City area?

Coach 1: It’s killing high school football recruiting, and it’s really frustrating for me as a head coach because I’ve recently had players that most non-transfer portal years, they would’ve had offers from KU, K-State, Missouri. But the high school kids, if you look every year now, where there used to be 25 of them committing to schools and two or three juco kids, now they’re getting eight or 10 high school kids. And it’s all transfer portal guys now.

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Coach 2: You just pissed me off because the NIL and the transfer portal have ruined high school recruiting. Especially the combination of that with COVID, everybody getting a sixth year. It has totally ruined high school football recruiting. (Coaches) know they can get somebody anytime they want out of the transfer portal And the NIL, that is another joke. I’m all for the kids making money. But there has to be contracts. There has to be accountability.

Coach 3: As a Power 5 kid, I’m not sure a whole lot has changed. For the kid that could be a potential walk-on who needs to prove himself and then maybe becomes a two- or three-year starter, maybe that’s a kid that always wanted to be a Tiger, a Jayhawk or a Wildcat growing up, I think that has become way more difficult for him. If you want to be an engineer and walk on at K-State and earn your stripes, I think you need to look elsewhere to another engineering school, like Colorado School of Mines or Missouri S&T, and you might have to go to that lower level and prove yourself before you maybe get that opportunity.

Coach 4: These kids are sitting around waiting on scholarship offers or thinking they’re going to get opportunities. They just kind of get dragged along until the college-level teams decide whether they’re going to pull portal kids or get high school kids. And it does seem at the Power 4 level that those schools are more and more apt to wait on those portal kids that have college playing experience over the high school kid anymore. It seems like the developmental piece of college athletics has been left to the Group of 5 or the mid-major schools to try to get those guys in almost like a minor league.

Coach 5: I had a guy who said they get 25 scholarships a year and he was like, “Man, half of our scholarships are going to portal guys and half of them are going to high school.” So I think the portal and NIL have changed the landscape and changed recruiting.

Coach 6: I’m still learning the NIL thing. I try to stay out of it. It’s not my business. But I will say that former players of ours that are currently in college will have coaches reach out. They’ll say, “Hey, Coach, just wondering how so and so is doing at so-and-so college. If he’s considering getting in the portal, this would be the NIL he could get at our school.” They can’t contact the family. They can’t contact the kid. So it seems like they rely on the high school coach, and we kind of become the middleman or broker. I almost feel dirty being that person.

Coach 8: I think the portal allows programs in the NAIA to be really, really good with some really, really good players. So they probably love the portal.

Have you had any coaches directly discuss payments of players via NIL?

Coach 1: I talk to those coaches about it. It’s a frustrating thing for all of them. The thing with that is they’re supposedly not handling any of that. That’s all the collectives doing it. But at the same time, they are involved. The NIL causes them a lot of duress because they’re losing kids and kids are being tampered with and they’re losing players because of the NIL. I can’t believe that somebody that’s never played a down of college football can demand that kind of money. I think it’s incredibly wrong. But I’m not smart enough and it’s not my place to fix it, and I hope somebody can fix it at some point.

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Coach 2: No. I think some of them just flat said, “Hey, if the kid brings up NIL, we don’t want him.” Coaches, that’s one thing they do not do. They are not mentioning anything about specific amounts. Nothing like that.

Coach 3: I had it on many different levels, from directly, “Hey, what does an NIL package look like for you guys?” A lot of them will break it down, “Hey, here’s the position. Here’s where we have him ranked. Here’s the competitiveness package compared to other schools for his position or for that specific player.” I had a player offered a couple hundred thousand. I don’t see those final figures. But that’s the rumor mill. I think it’s like anything in any other job that, “I heard so-and-so is getting paid this.” Unless you directly ask them and they’re completely honest, you’re not sure.

Coach 4: Indirectly, yes. Not in a direct way. I get more of, “Coach, we’re going to take care of him.” I have had some interesting conversations with coaches in the last year or so when they were trying to get some of our kids to decommit from a school to go to another, asking about what it might take and what that might look like. It was more of, “Hey, Coach, how much is he getting from X school and what would it take to get him here?” It wasn’t, “Hey, Coach, we’re going to offer him X amount of dollars.” They just wanted to know what the number was that it would take to try to get them to the school.

Coach 5: I haven’t had that conversation. You have different coaches that say different things if a kid is being recruited by them, and his first question is, “What does my NIL package look like?” Some of those guys are like, “We’re not interested in recruiting that type of kid.” That doesn’t mean that they don’t have enough money, but they don’t want that to be the main thing on that kid’s mind.

Coach 6: I have not had a coach say so-and-so recruit is worth this much NIL because honestly, I would tell them that’s between you and the recruits and their family. That’s not my business.

Coach 7: No, but I’ve had coaches come in and they’ve talked about how much it’s driving their life crazy, how their job has gotten a lot tougher. A lot of them feel like there’s tampering going on in the system. They said you can tell when kids have gotten offered things in the middle of season because they naturally kind of check out and it affects the current season.

(Top illustration: Daniel Goldfarb for The Athletic; Photo:Edwin Remsberg / VWPics via AP Images)

Kansas City high school football coaches on region's best recruiters, impact of NIL and more (2024)
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