Jim Leonhard promoted to Wisconsin DC two years after retiring from NFL
Leonhard had a 10-year NFL career but has only coached one season
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst must feel a successful 10-year NFL career is all the experience one needs to coordinate a major college defense after promoting Jim Leonhard to the position on Thursday.
Leonhard, who retired from the NFL one year ago and coached defensive backs for the Badgers in 2016, has basically followed the path of a basketball player into coaching.
"To me, for a coordinator, there has to be certainly a football knowledge level," Chryst said in a school release. "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. It's connecting how one unit plays off the other two units. In this case, how does the defense play off of and with the offense and the special teams? Jimmy has a skill that he can connect groups of people. As a coach, teacher, I thought he'd be really good last year at this time. Now, I know that he's a heckuva teacher."
One year ago, Leonhard said he could never have imagined holding such an important job this quickly, but he now believes he is ready for such a challenge. He will continue coaching the secondary in addition to coordinating the defense.
"I probably would have laughed at you -- not knowing exactly how it was going to go and how it would work out," said Leonhard. "Paul brought me in and asked me if I was interested. He thought I was ready and he thought I could handle it. I was excited about the possibility and kind of wanted to see where I was at -- if I really wanted to entertain the idea.
"[The thought process] went a lot of places initially, trying to decide if it was the right time and if I was ready. The actual calling of the plays and designing everything, I feel very comfortable with. It's the rest ... It's building the relationships with the guys and the staff. It's making sure of all the details in the day-to-day [operation]. It's structuring practices and meetings. It's kind of the whole big picture of it. I was just making sure I was going to be comfortable with that and the time that went along with it.
"The longer I thought about it, the more excited I got about the possibilities and what could happen and I jumped at the opportunity."
Leonhard also said his experiences being coached by Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine, Jim O'Neill and Jack Del Rio drastically improved his football IQ and prepared him for such a responsibility.
The Badgers finished fourth nationally in scoring defense and seventh in total defense a season ago under Justin Wilcox, who left to take over Cal. Those are some big shoes to fill.
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