Chris Simpson: Chasing the 'AHA!' Moments in Life
That was my response when Coach Leipold offered me the coaching job at the University of Kansas. There really wasn’t anything to think about or even discuss. He had me at “hello” as soon as I picked up the phone.
For so long, I’ve chased the “AHA!” moments in life—you know, those light bulb moments when you really understand your why for doing something.
The opportunity to instill that in a group of willing young men is what drives me as a coach.
But the chance to do so at the Power Five level is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. This is the pie-in-the-sky opportunity people dream about, and I get to do it alongside a head coach I believe in.
So, my answer was “yes.” Heck yes. It was that simple.
A teammate in life
When I reflect on my journey and what brought me to this point, I can’t help but to think about my childhood.
My dad died when I was around five years old, and my mom never remarried. She made the decision to shift all of her focus towards my sister and I. So in a way, the football coaches in my life became my father figures.
Not only were they teaching me how to excel on the football field, but they also pushed me and challenged me to be equally as successful off the field as well.
Deep down, I truly believe that’s what led me on my journey to becoming a coach. I wanted a chance to impact other young people the same way the coaches in my life impacted me.
What I try to explain to the young men I coach goes beyond just the game of football. Sure, we’re doing football together day in and day out, but truly, we’re also doing life together. Things are going to happen off the football field.
Whether it’s with relationships, academics, or life’s most challenging moments—it’s inevitable.
My goal is not only to provide a skill set for young people to handle life as it comes at them, but I’m also here to go through it with them when it happens. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re really doing when you’re part of a team, right? You’re doing life together.
And then, there are those “AHA!” moments.
It’s the days when you think a coach is constantly on you and bugging you about something. Those days when it really feels like someone is on your back relentlessly saying, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.”
And you really don’t understand why.
Why is this coach pestering me about the same things over and over again? But eventually, that light bulb goes off. Now, you finally understand.
Oddly enough, you find yourself as a father, employee, boss, or husband thinking and reflecting on yourself.
“Now I get it.”
You kind of become that person and relay those same messages to your kids. I really enjoy seeing some of those moments play out over the years.
Personally, I still have moments like that to this very day as well.
The crossover journey
So many of those moments have come when working alongside Coach Leipold.
We have such a strong relationship with one another. I couldn’t ask for a better man to be along with on this journey. There’s definitely some crossover in our coming together.
We both played under coach Bob Berezowitz at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at different points of our playing careers. As coaches, however, we didn’t actually get to work together until Coach Leipold landed the Whitewater head coaching job while I was still there working as an assistant.
It was a strong first year together, but after we won the national championship, I made the decision to take a job at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
It was one of those situations where the timing just felt right for me and my family.
Our paths didn’t really cross again until I was at Eastern Michigan. It’s actually a pretty funny story when thinking back on it. We only won two games that year, and one of those victories came against the University at Buffalo. Buffalo eventually made a coaching change and Coach Leipold took over the program.
Before he took that job, he called me up and asked me to come onto the staff.
It was just an exciting opportunity to get back to work with the old crew from Whitewater. I would always jokingly tell Coach Leipold, “You wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me.” Clearly, that was a joke to a man who has won six national championships and is an incredible leader.
But truly, I think he has strong loyalties to the people that have helped him along the way. So there was clearly no hesitation on my part when the KU job opened up.
Coach Leipold has a blueprint, and we have some pretty strong evidence that says it’ll be successful if given the time and opportunity.
I like to compare it to the stock market.
You don’t invest in stocks expecting to become a millionaire overnight. However, if you invest wisely and hold to it, the dividends will come. That’s what we’re trying to do at KU.
Visions of a player-led team
This opportunity is humbling in so many ways.
I’m excited. My wife is excited. My kids are excited. I just feel so blessed and fortunate to be here.
But now it’s time to go to work. It’s time to follow the blueprint.
Regardless of the level, I actually believe the job doesn’t have a lot of differences. Whether you win or lose, you’re still putting in time. You’re still recruiting, whether it’s Division III or Division I football. Obviously, the stage is bigger, and the stadiums are bigger.
I fully understand and welcome that challenge.
Now, I can’t wait for full practices to start working with these guys and seeing the day-to-day progress because that’s how we’re going to get this thing built.
Most importantly, I want this team to become player-led.
I’m trying to get to the point where we’re all on the same page. It’s the point where everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction and everyone fully understands what we’re trying to accomplish—not just systematically but holistically within the program. I want it to get to the point where I can almost just oversee things and let them handle it.
When we get to a point where a player reminds another player of his duties or pushes him in the weight room before one of us has to do it, we know this team is on the right path. That’s what we’re aiming for.
So, KU nation, let’s do this.