Jim Leonhard won’t be staying at Wisconsin after its bowl game later this month.
The Badgers defensive coordinator since 2017 and the interim coach since October, announced Tuesday night he had informed new coach Luke Fickell he would not be staying on staff in 2023. Leonhard will serve as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Oklahoma State on Dec. 27.
There was a report Saturday from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Leonhard had decided to stay despite being passed over for the full-time head coaching job by Fickell and was expected to inform his players of such during a meeting that day. That proved to be not the case.
Fickell told reporters Sunday that he was open to Leonhard returning and that the 40-year-old was weighing his options. The Wisconsin State Journal reported Leonhard had been offered the defensive coordinator role and the expectation was a decision would be made early in the week.
Leonhard, who was a three-time All-American for the Badgers in the early 2000s, leaves the program after spending seven seasons as a coach, including the last six as defensive coordinator. He oversaw some of the best defenses in school history. That included in 2021 when the Badgers led the country in total defense and rushing defense, while finishing fourth in scoring defense and passing defense.
The impact of the decision remains to be seen. Leonhard was extremely popular in the locker room, and nearly every player that was asked during the season wanted him as their head coach. With him no longer in Madison, that could impact a slew of players and their decisions whether to enter the transfer portal or not, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Depending on his next job, you could see some players follow him to a different school, though a move to the NFL is also possible. The Wisconsin native had a chance to go to the league two years ago when the Green Bay Packers came calling for him to be their defensive coordinator.
Fickell’s staff is still under construction but will include his co-defensive coordinators at Cincinnati — Mike Tressel, who coached linebackers, along with Colin Hitschler, who coached safeties. Both were on the road recruiting for Wisconsin last Friday. Wide receivers coach Mike Brown is also expected to join Fickell in Madison.