MADISON — While University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has yet to complete his second season as a coach, he’s been around football long enough to know how the coaching carousel works.
Coaches are fired often, just as many are promoted and the chances of remaining at one program for an entire career are next to none.
After leading the Badgers’ defense to top-five national rankings in a number of major statistical categories, Leonhard’s sure to be a wanted commodity this offseason. The former UW and NFL safety also knows, however, that his current position with Badgers suits him about as well as any job could this early in his career.
“I’m new to the coaching world,” Leonhard said, “ but I’ve obviously been in sports, and to say that you’re going to be in one place for your whole life or your career, that’s just generally not what football is. I’m very fortunate to be doing it here with Coach (Paul) Chryst right now, and I love everything about it. So I’m not in a hurry to get out of here, that’s for sure.”
Leonhard, 35, generated national attention this season and became a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the country’s top assistant coach. His name hasn’t been seriously linked to any job openings this month, but there’s certainly time for that to change.
Leonhard, who played for six NFL teams in 10 seasons, retired from the league less than three years ago and developed relationships with plenty of coaches at that level. NFL teams end their season no earlier than Dec. 31, at which time another wave of jobs will likely open up.
“I think you see what opportunities are out there, but I’m not necessarily throwing my name all over the place,” Leonhard said. “I’m not necessarily looking for a lot of opportunities at this point, but I will listen when things come. I’ve put myself in a position to listen and see what’s out there, but I’m excited to be here. I love everything about it.”
Leonhard, the Badgers’ third defensive coordinator in as many years, said he isn’t sure whether he ultimately wants to be a head coach.
It takes an even greater time commitment than his current responsibilities, and he said it’s a decision he’d make with his family rather than on his own. He also loves what he’s doing now, where he can focus more on teaching.
“I’m excited to be doing what I’m doing as a coach,” he said. “The day-to-day interaction with the players and just the teaching aspect of it is the most fun for me. I love what I’m doing right now.”
Leonhard’s history in Madison could also keep him put for at least the immediate future. The Tony native earned All-American honors in three of his four seasons with the Badgers from 2001-04.
He said it means a great deal to see UW on the cusp of competing for a national championship, and it’s even more thrilling to be part of it.
“I’m excited to be in this program and where we’re at as a program,” Leonhard said. “I’m a Badger, and I’m excited for what we’re doing and just how close we are to doing some special things. Obviously, we’d like to see this program take the next step, and we’re right there. That’s the exciting part for me as a coach.”