MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard says he has unfinished business at his alma mater and wouldn’t have felt right leaving after a pandemic-shortened season, even for an opportunity as tempting as his home state’s NFL team.
Leonhard was a prime candidate for the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator position and had been offered the job according to multiple reports. but opted to return for a sixth season on Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst‘s staff. The Packers instead hired Joe Barry as defensive coordinator.
“I love Madison,” Leonhard said. “To me, there’s some unfinished business with the University of Wisconsin. I love this group of kids and want to continue to develop them. With COVID being the way it was last year, I’d have felt a specific way about myself having left after that season.”
Leonhard aimed high as he specified the nature of his unfinished business at Wisconsin, which opened spring practice this week.
“I came here wanting to win a national championship, I came here wanting to win the Big Ten as a player,” said Leonhard, who played safety for the Badgers from 2001-04 before starting a 10-year NFL career. “Nothing’s changed as a coach. We haven’t done that since I’ve been back. The goals haven’t changed. I feel like we have a group that can accomplish that.”
Wisconsin struggled to a 4-3 record last year but ranked fifth nationally in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. Wisconsin has finished in the top five in total defense and top 10 in total defense in three of Leonhard’s four seasons as defensive coordinator.
Leonhard acknowledged the Green Bay situation was particularly enticing.
“They’re right on the fringe of a Super Bowl and have been for a while now,” Leonhard said. “Definitely a difficult decision to have to make.”