MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 01: Assistant coach Jim Leonhard of the Wisconsin Badgers calls out instruction to his defense in the second quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium on October 01, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Jim Leonhard brings renewed hope to the Wisconsin football program

Jim Leonhard brings renewed hope to the Wisconsin football program

Madison, Wis. – They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.

Jim Leonhard, ladies and gentlemen, is that something to hope for if you’re a Wisconsin Badgers fan.

“This place means a lot to me,” Leonhard said during a UW press conference. “I feel like I can take this opportunity and help this place grow. That’s why I came back a number of years ago. It’s why I haven’t left.”

In five seasons as the Badgers’ defensive coordinator, Leonard finished top five in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times. In short, he’s a stud.

Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh wants Leonhard to succeed and become the long-term head coach of the program, make no mistake about it. Now, on an interim basis, he’ll have the chance to reinvigorate the Badgers after a disappointing 2-3 start to the season.

The writing has been on the wall for some time now; Leonhard was always going to be the heir apparent to Paul Chryst.

Why make a move to Jim Leonhard in-season?

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard looks on in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Coach Leonhard is a legend in Wisconsin and one of the sport’s brightest young minds. If you’re Wisconsin, losing him while the program is backsliding simply wasn’t going to be an option. 

This move, while risky, signals the athletic department’s desire to reinvigorate the football program and help it reach new heights.

While we may never know the actual reason, we do know that UW desires to become an upper echelon program, and Chris McIntosh didn’t feel like the Badgers would be able to accomplish that with Chryst at the helm.

My guess is McIntosh wanted his guy (presumably Jim Leonhard) to take over the program and wanted to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. Fans and media alike were calling for a change, and following a loss to Illinois, he had a window to make this move with little to no backlash. 

Now, coach Leonhard has the opportunity to audition for his dream job, allowing the Wisconsin athletic department to evaluate him before making a permanent decision. If things go poorly ( I don’t think it will), UW can cast a wider net and perform a national coaching search. 

I have no reason to believe Leonhard won’t succeed if he can surround himself with the right assistants. 

Right now, I’m going to operate under the assumption this is the beginning of the Jim Leonhard era for the Wisconsin Badgers. 

What can Leonhard do to fix the offense? 

Let’s call a spade a spade; Wisconsin’s offense has been terrible. 

Nobody truly knows whether Bobby Engram has been able to run his offense the way he envisioned or if Paul Chryst had significant input and hindered his play-calling ability (that’s my best guess). 

I don’t think it’s in the program’s best interest to try and reinvent the wheel here. Instead, Wisconsin needs to take some chances, inject fresh ideas, and build upon what they already do well. 

We have no idea what Leonhard will do on the offensive side of the ball because nothing on his resume indicates his preferences. 

It would be highly encouraging to see Engram open up the playbook and put players in a position to accentuate their collective strengths. A little modernization and creativity would go a long way in fixing UW’s offensive woes. 

In the past, Leonhard has spoken about his admiration for the RPO-based offensive schemes. Perhaps we’ll see more of that implemented during the stretch run. 

Either way, Jim Leonhard brings much-needed hope to the Wisconsin football program.

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