Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is the latest ex-NFL standout climbing the college ranks.
Less than a decade removed from his final NFL snap, Leonhard could be a college head coach in the coming months.
Jim Leonhard was an All-American at Wisconsin
Jim Leonhard’s story will make a terrific movie down the line.
An undersized defensive back at a generous 5 feet 8 inches, Leonhard walked on at Wisconsin and thrived there. Leonhard was a three-time All-American and snagged 21 interceptions from 2002-14.
The gritty Leonhard also scored three punt return touchdowns. Wisconsin placed Leonhard on scholarship before his senior year, a campaign that culminated in him earning All-American honors again.
The size hurt Leonhard, however, and he went undrafted in 2005.
Leonhard played 10 NFL seasons
If anyone used Jim Leonhard’s size against him, they clearly didn’t watch enough Star Wars.
Leonhard proved Master Yoda correct, showing that his size mattered not. Instead, Leonhard’s heart and ability allowed him to play a full 10 years in the NFL.
Leonhard began his career with the Buffalo Bills, snagging two interceptions and recovering a fumble from 2005-07. Leonhard signed with Baltimore in 2008 and took the next step under Rex Ryan, the Ravens’ brilliant defensive coordinator.
When Ryan took the Jets’ head coaching job, Leonhard followed him to New Jersey — er, New York — on a three-year deal.
Leonhard grabbed three interceptions, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles, totaled 2.5 sacks, and had 11 tackles for loss in 40 games with the Jets across those three years.
A capable postseason player, Leonhard also had two interceptions, forced three fumbles, and grabbed another three fumbles in six playoff games with the Ravens and Jets.
Leonhard closed his career with one-year stints in Denver, Buffalo, and Cleveland. He retired with 14 career interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a lengthy career for an undersized player.
Jim Leonhard could be a college head coach soon
Jim Leonhard didn’t need long to jump into the college football coaching world.
Wisconsin named Leonhard its defensive backs coach in 2016. A year later, the school promoted Leonhard to defensive coordinator; he has also kept the defensive backs coach title.
Although Leonhard has regularly said how happy he is at Wisconsin, he will be a hot name in coaching circles as his resume grows. Defensive-minded coaches can earn head coaching jobs much easier at the college level than they can in the NFL.
Leonhard would bring NFL experience and a great background to any school that hires him. Leonhard could also opt to wait until head coach Paul Chryst either retires or takes a new head coaching position.
Chrsyt turns 55 in November. He is 52-16 at Wisconsin and 4-1 in bowl games since he took over in 2015, so Chryst is likely safe from being fired anytime soon.