MADISON — Wisconsin has its new defensive coordinator.
Late Thursday afternoon, the school announced that secondary coach Jim Leonhard had been promoted to the position after just one year as a coach.
“I love teaching the game of football. The last year really has been great learning the college game again,” Leonhard told UWBadgers.com. “Now, I’m looking forward to having a little more say as to what we do and how we do it. Just the approach I want to have to teach these guys.”
A former walk-on turned three-time All-American at Wisconsin, Leonhard spent 10 years in the NFL before taking a year off in 2015. When the opportunity to join his alma mater came in 2016, he jumped at it. And now, less than a year after taking that job, he’s being called on to run the entire defense.
“To me, for a coordinator, there has to be certainly a football knowledge level,” coach Paul Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “Jimmy has far more than just a one-year level of coaching knowledge; X’s and O’s, scheme knowledge. In fact, I think he has got great football schematic knowledge.
“And, then, I think a big part of coordinating is connecting. It’s connecting the coaches and coming up with and coordinating the different units into a scheme. It’s connecting the coaches to players. It’s finding ways to connect players to players and how you play.”
Chryst said he spoke with the two other defensive assistants — outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield — but felt Leonhard was the best option to replace Justin Wilcox, who left to take the head coaching job at California last month.
Long considered to be a coach on the field during his playing career, Leonhard now has the reigns to a defense that has been among the best in the nation the last four seasons.
“To me, it’s just taking that baton and putting my stamp on it,” Leonhard said. “Being myself and doing it my way but making the players understand that it’s their defense and they’re going to control where this thing goes.”