When Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur took over the green and gold in 2019, he retained Mike McCarthy-era coordinator Mike Pettine, who lasted two years in the role before his contract was allowed to expire following the Packers’ playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. LaFleur’s first choice to replace Pettine was then-Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who turned down the opportunity to stick with the Badgers.
Leonhard sticking at the college level looked like a solid decision this year when Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was let go and Leonhard was made interim head coach for the remainder of the season. After starting the season 2-3 with Chryst, Leonhard coached the Badgers to a 4-3 finish under his watch.
Wisconsin stunned the world when they were able to hire Cincinnati’s head coach Luke Fickell — who was in the college football playoff the year before with the Bearcats — instead of Leonhard as their next face of the program. Since then, the question has lingered: Would Leonhard consider taking the Packers’ defensive coordinator job if it opened?
We got one step closer to seeing Leonhard in Green Bay on Tuesday night when he announced on Twitter that he would only remain with the Badgers through the team’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl versus Oklahoma State on December 27th. At the time, it was speculated that Fickell was attempting to retain him as the team’s defensive coordinator. Leonhard, who has been a part of the coaching staff since 2016, will now be looking for a new job.
The Packers have struggled on defense this year, particularly in the run game. They’ve allowed 109 first downs on the ground under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, which leads the league. They have also conceded 2,012 rushing yards (second-most), 5.0 yards per carry (fourth-most) and 15 rushing touchdowns (fifth-most) in 2022.
While the job has yet to open, the thought of Barry being let go after the season isn’t going to leave the minds of Packers fans anytime soon. Should Green Bay move in that direction, Wisconsin’s native son, Leonhard, will be a name that will come up over and over again to fill the vacancy, as his connection to the state and LaFleur seems like a perfect match.
As far as Leonhard’s accomplishments at the college level go, here’s what Wisconsin’s team site had to say about his defenses when he was named interim head coach:
In Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, UW has ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times. During that time, the Badgers rank third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (110.5), third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg) and first in opponents’ third down conversions (30.5%). Wisconsin has forced 112 turnovers over that span, tied for fourth-most among Power Five Conference teams.