Packers’ Defensive Coordinator Candidate: Jim Leonhard

After the Packers’ second straight NFC Championship loss, Mike Pettine’s contract was allowed to expire. While he was not fired, the Packers clearly felt a new defensive coordinator was needed. Head coach Matt LaFleur has been conducting interviews for over a week. He has met with some coaches on other NFL staffs, and also some on his own staff. However, he has branched out to the main football college program in his state: Wisconsin. Yesterday, LaFleur interviewed their defensive coordinator: Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard Is a Wisconsin Boy

Not only did Jim Leonhard play his college ball at Wisconsin, he is literally from Wisconsin. His hometown is Ladysmith, Wisconsin. It is a small town in Rusk County, about an hour north of Eau Claire.

As a Wisconsin Badger, Leonhard recorded 21 interceptions in three seasons. This included 11 in his sophomore season alone. His 21 career picks are tied for the most in school history.

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His NFL Career

Just as Leonhard had not received any scholarships out of high school, he was not chosen by any NFL team in the draft. He made the Buffalo Bills roster, though, as an undrafted free agent in 2005.

Throughout his career, he would play for the Bills (twice), Ravens, Jets, Broncos, and Browns. In ten seasons, he recorded over 400 tackles and 14 interceptions. Notably, he played five of his ten seasons under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Coaching Career

In 2016, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst hired Leonhard to be the defensive backs coach at Wisconsin. He held that position for one year before being promoted to defensive coordinator. Since taking over the Badgers’ defense, Wisconsin has had a top-five ranked defense every year. This is especially impressive given the fact that Wisconsin does not recruit very highly-rated defensive players. In a sense, Leonhard has done more with less.

What Makes Him a Good Candidate?

It is easy for Packers’ fans to point to Leonhard and automatically want him due to the Wisconsin connection. Historically, the Packers have generally shied away from that connection, much to the chagrin of their fans (for example, drafting Kevin King over TJ Watt).

However, the very fact that the Packers are interested in Leonhard shows that his football knowledge goes beyond any state-friendly interest. As stated earlier, Leonhard spent half his career playing for Mike Pettine. Bringing him in as Pettine’s replacement would create a very smooth transition.

In addition, in the year between his retirement and his first year coaching at Wisconsin, Leonhard spent a full year reviewing tape. He learned defensive schemes from all over NCAA football and the NFL. His understanding and knowledge of the defensive game is borderline unparalleled.

Will He Get the Job?

This question is impossible to answer. Matt LaFleur has already conducted seven interviews and there are likely more to come. The Packers are doing a very thorough search of great candidates. Leonhard is certainly a favorite among Packers’ fans. However, there may be another candidate out there that LaFleur feels fits the team better. In any case, the defense should be much better next year.


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