The door isn’t closed for Jim Leonhard to be a football coach at the University of Wisconsin.
The Badgers’ new coach, Luke Fickell, told reporters he spoke with Leonhard on Sunday about a number of topics, one of which was the possibility of Leonhard staying on his staff. Fickell said he will be involved in coaching the team in some capacity during its bowl prep over the next month, but he and Leonhard still were working out those details.
The two plan to meet again Wednesday as the transition continues from Leonhard as interim to Fickell as coach.
“He loves this place, he’s a diehard,” Fickell said about Leonhard. “So there’s a lot of options that are open. I respect Jim. I don’t know Jim all that well, getting to know him from afar. … I think we’re very similar in a lot of ways.
“Jim will know what’s best for him, Jim will know what’s best for the program, he’ll know what’s best for this team. And I respect that. We’ll continue to talk about what the future looks like.”
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Leonhard, who has been the Badgers’ defensive coordinator since 2017, went 4-3 as UW’s interim after athletic director Chris McIntosh fired former coach Paul Chryst on Oct. 2. The Tony native and former three-time All-American safety for the Badgers interviewed with McIntosh for the permanent position in the afternoon Nov. 21 and was given strong consideration, McIntosh said.
Leonhard was not at Fickell’s welcome event at Camp Randall Stadium and has not made a public statement since being passed over. UW posted jobs for defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, assistant coach and two strength and conditioning coaches. Fickell said he was returning Tuesday to his former school, Cincinnati, and that he would be returning with two recruiting staffers and his strength coach. FootballScoop.com first reported that strength coach Brady Collins and recruiting heads Pat Lambert and Max Stienecker would be joining Fickell at UW.
Fickell is uniquely qualified to handle the situation he’s in with Leonhard because he’s been in Leonhard’s shoes. After playing nose guard for and serving nine years as an assistant at Ohio State, Fickell was made the interim coach for the 2011 season after Jim Tressel resigned. He went 6-7 that year and though he was a candidate for the position, OSU hired Urban Meyer.
Fickell chose to stay on Meyer’s staff as co-defensive coordinator and helped the Buckeyes win the 2014 CFP national championship.
Leonhard has “soul-searching” to do when making his decision about his future, Fickell said.
“In your mind, figure out where you want to be in five years, where you want to be in 10 years,” Fickell said when asked what his advice to Leonhard would be. “If you can figure out and say where you want to be in five years, where you want to be in 10 years, it’s going to help you figure out a lot better where you want to be next year. That’s not easy. There's a lot of things we all have to be able to get over and get through.
“We didn't dive into it as much, if he does pick my brain on some of those things, obviously I would get deeper, but I know that it's not an easy situation. It takes a special person in some ways to get over a lot of those things. I had a hard time with it. But I do believe it was the right thing for me, and the way that I did, went about it, and it helped me be who I am. My way is not always the right way; it’s not the way for everybody else.
“I think that's where it really comes down to what's in your heart, what’s in your mind. ... I’m excited to just find out what he thinks.”
Badgers fans optimistic Luke Fickell can elevate Wisconsin football program
They don't have baseball so ...
Gutting for Leonhard but this is the biggest HR Wisconsin could’ve hit. Sucks for the players now and they will complain with every right to do that but you can’t make the future of your university decision on a guy who won the locker room. I mean he had 3 losses to below Avg tms— Damon Gnewikow (@damongkow) November 27, 2022
Shoot your shot
LFG! Program needed a shock to the system in the worst way. Will it immediately turn around? Who knows, but worth a shot.— UWOX95 (@wpscmsn) November 27, 2022
Break from tradition
Ballsy. The incest/nepotism in Wisconsin athletics (especially football) has gone on long enough. 👍🏼— Biscuits (@WiscoInferno) November 27, 2022
Feel bad for JL. Getting passed over for the dream job you wanted is awful. But college athletics is a results based business. Had he won yesterday. I think this is a different conversation today.— Eric (@Eric_Johnson79) November 27, 2022
Ceiling is high
Splash hire. Big risk, big reward. JL was the safer hire to be sure but not sure he was ready or gets us to CFP.— 6oh8four1four (@6oh8four1four) November 27, 2022
Leonhard was a question mark, Fickell is an answer.— Badgerbuss (@badgerbuss) November 27, 2022
Mac made a business decision vs an emotional one. Shocked that he did it. This instantly gets people engaged.— Rob Finley (@finleyr27) November 27, 2022
greatest day in program history— Not Hoodie Maybin (Clarke Schmidt Fan) (@HoodieMaybin) November 27, 2022
Shades of Barry?
Good hire. Change directions without changing standards. Jimmy ends up as NFL DC or gets another college HC job. Fickel gets Badgers to think playoffs instead of just B1G West championship. Remember that Barry had zero ties to UW when he was hired … and he likes this hire, too!— Rob Vitense ⚾️ (@BadgerCubinMN) November 27, 2022
Future in mind
LOVE IT— BrockinSB (@HiuraFan) November 27, 2022
it's a "CFP or BUST" hire
USC/UCLA coming to B1G
does Wi want to be in same convo as Mi, tOSU, USC, UCLA OR do they want to be like Iowa, Neb, Purdue, Illinois, etc.
THIS IS THE MOVE to be at the top
Packers on the horn?
It’s a steal. McIntosh knows with USC and UCLA coming UW had to step up in the new world of NIL. If I were the packers I’d be picking up the phone and checking in on Leonhard.— Yusan Trading (@YusanTrading) November 27, 2022
A UW workout
If the badgers wanted to be a contender going forward it was time to make the leap outside of Wisconsin. Jimmy is a great coach but just like a muscle you have to break it down to get stronger. This hire says we are all in on getting to the playoffs— Justin (@jpad214) November 27, 2022
McIntosh is his own man for sure. I feel bad for Leonhard,I wanted him to get the job. Thay said I am excited by the hiring of Fickell. He is a proven winner. Interesting times!— David Roelke (@droelke) November 27, 2022
Changeup on offense?
culture change...good coach, but how do his offensive systems fit with what WI recruits? Do we get move away from the big OL heavy run in favor of shotgun looks? Is this a Rich Rodriguez to Mich type of hire?— Slim Hickman (@SlimHickman) November 27, 2022
Absolutely gutted for jim but with how far PC let the program regress the last 5 years I think going outside the Barry tree is a prudent move— WiscoFanatic (@608BadgerFan) November 27, 2022
Changing with the times
Grand Slam. New blood. New ideas. Love this move by McIntosh. I feel for Jim Leonhard but this is a big boy move in the new world that is the current college football landscape.— Jordan Steward (@Jordan__Steward) November 27, 2022
Tough down the stretch
I think the losses at Iowa and Minny cost JL the gig, but I also think it is time for a change.— Sean Patrick Little (@WiscoWriterGuy) November 27, 2022
The program could use some of that Ohio State mindset Fickell will bring.
But this is now
Don't be surprised when he bolts for the Ohio State University in a few years. Loyalty and $5 will get you a nice cup of coffee.— BuckyUAZ 🌵 (@BuckyUaz) November 27, 2022
Joke.3 losses this year with a lousy schedule. Easily should have been6-6. Why would a recruit come to Wisconsin now? Athletes are going other places with better options. You could sell yourself tolineman,running backs and linebackers but that’s gonetoo.I’m done watching or going— Joe Devine (@joedevine87) November 27, 2022
How does history repeat?
I give Mac credit that he is shooting his shot. My heart is still with JL…the ghosts of GA still haunt— Todd (@pilprin) November 27, 2022
I love it! Big BOLD hire! As much as my heart wants Jim Leonhard because he’s a Wisconsin guy and Badger. My head is telling me that Fickell makes us a national power, consistent top 15 program year in and year out. Let’s Go! On, Wisconsin!— Michael Herfel⚓️💙🤍 (@MichaelHerfel7) November 27, 2022
Why not Wisconsin?
Perfect. Great evolution of the program. The message to the locker room is if he can take Cincinnati to the CFP, why not us?— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) November 27, 2022
I hate it. He’s a mid level strong coach. He proved he couldn’t win when he had a stacked Ohio state roster. Winning at in conference lower than power 5 proves nothing. Gary Anderson 2.0— Canaan Wolfe (@WolfeCanaan) November 27, 2022
I think McIntosh just bet his job on this hire. If this doesn’t work out I think he will be out the door. I personally don’t like it at all, but also realize I am just a fan.— Todd Moroney (@toddmoroney) November 27, 2022
Winning on Sunday
Chris and badger fans want winning results and hope then can get them again. Huge Victory today !!— fltime (@bustrainfly) November 27, 2022
Swinging for fences
Solid move. CFB is crazy, changing so fast. The program could use a change as well. Would of been good with Leonhard, to see what he could do. But this the bigger swing you have to take now days. Leonhard will no doubt have many suitors, wish him good luck.— KyleTkachuk (@KyleTkachuk) November 27, 2022
Fans need to understand could be a mediocre couple years while he builds, especially if players leave. Feel awful for JL, he’s a player’s coach and felt he could have blossomed into a really good head coach. In the end, we need to get to the next level and LF has done that— Brian Bruhn (@bcbruhn) November 27, 2022
I think it's a pretty good hire it's kind of a shocking hire I don't think any of us really saw that coming. I'm going to say it most of this is probably because of first and goal on the five and then we all saw what happened there. But Luke is a proven coach and not a UW guy— Parker Dutcher (@ParkerDutcher) November 27, 2022
Time to move forward
He would most definitely move our program forward to the next level where we all expected Barry Alvarez to take it.— Doug Griese (@doug_griese) November 27, 2022
Here’s hoping Jim Leonard is at least asked to stay on as D coordinator. Fickell has to make the best available choice!!