Wisconsin has a replacement for departed defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and it is a bold move to say the least.
Head coach Paul Chryst has tapped defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard as the Badgers’ new defensive coordinator, handing the keys to the defense to a 34-year-old who is in just his second year of coaching.
We have our coordinator.
You may recognize him.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) February 2, 2017
Despite his inexperience as a coach, there’s no denying Leonhard is familiar with the Badgers, having worked his way up from walk-on to All-American as a player at Wisconsin. He went on to enjoy a 10-year career in the NFL before getting his first coaching job at Wisconsin prior to last season.
The Badgers secondary impressed immediately under Leonhard with 22 interceptions, tied for second-most in the FBS last season and the most by a Badgers team since 2002. Of course, 2002 was also the year when Leonhard tied the Big Ten single-season record with 11 interceptions as a player. He would finish his career with 21 interceptions in three seasons, from 2002-04.
— Chris Orr (@Chris_Guwap) February 2, 2017
The move is also likely a bid to bring some stability to what has been high-turnover position at Wisconsin. Leonhard will be Wisconsin’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons, with Dave Aranda leaving for the same position — and a higher salary — at LSU following the 2015 season and Wilcox taking the head coaching spot at Cal in mid-January. Promoting Leonhard will put UW alums in Wisconsin’s top three coaching positions, with Chryst as head coach and Joe Rudolph at offensive coordinator.
Leonhard has a high mark to meet given the level Wilcox had the Badgers playing at last season. Wisconsin finished No. 4 nationally in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and No. 7 in total defense (301.4 yards per game).
Jim Leonhard will keep Wisconsin's 3-4 base defense: "That's who we are. I love the flexibility in it."
— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) February 2, 2017