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Jim Leonhard making his case to be Wisconsin’s permanent head football coach
Has led Badgers to wins in 3 of 4 games since replacing the fired Paul Chryst
CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s still a three-man front defensively. It’s still an offense centered around the running game.
Jim Leonhard didn’t try and reinvent the wheel when he was named interim head coach coach of the Wisconsin Badgers after the school fired Paul Chryst in early October. It wouldn’t have been a prudent thing to do during the season.
He made perhaps a couple of subtle tweaks here and there. That kind of thing.
But he has steadied what had appeared to be a sinking ship and a sunken season. Wisconsin has won three of four games under Leonhard as it heads to Iowa City to play the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
“I mean, to me they look pretty much the same in all phases,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “They're just playing at a really good level right now. They had a couple tough losses a while back, but they're three out of four now and playing with pretty good momentum. Looked really good against Maryland.”
Wisconsin beat Maryland last week, 23-10, to move to 5-4, one win from bowl eligibility and still with a remote shot at the Big Ten Conference West Division championship. Saturday’s loser certainly will be out of contention.
Leonhard, 38, is a former Badgers player and a successful defensive coordinator. He has been considered a rising star in the coaching profession, which some have felt was a reason Wisconsin pulled the trigger on Chryst after a 2-3 start.
Better to keep a young up and comer than lose him to someone else, especially within your conference. Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh has committed to making a national search for a permanent head coach, but when it all shakes out, don’t be surprised if that permanent head coach is Leonhard.
“Oh, he’s ready,” Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz said recently. “I just know. I’m around him every day. He’s ready.”
“It’s been really exciting for me to see the response of the coaches, of the players,” Leonhard said. “It’s been exciting just to see the certain little changes you’ve made and kind of the buy-in of the messaging and the play on the field. It’s exciting for me to see all of that.”
Leonhard was asked at a recent press conference if he feels he’s ready to be a head coach.
“I know I’m capable of it,” he said. “I would be excited for the opportunity, and it’s fun to get the chance to really affect some change this season, and see what we could get done, knowing that a lot of the big changes that would have to happen are really coming after this season if I were to get this position.”
Leonhard said he didn’t feel massive changes needed to take place at his alma mater. Perhaps some improvements on the recruiting and player development side.
Eric Johnson, who spent over a decade as an assistant coach at Iowa, is Wisconsin’s Executive Director of Football Administration, by the way.
“The foundation on what this place is, and how Wisconsin has won is strong,” Leonhard said. “We just have to get back to detailing up the things that need to be done better and that would be a lot of the emphasis going forward.
“Number one, this place has always been about the culture and the players. We have to get back to doing that a little bit better. We let some things slip a little bit and just a little bit of gray. We want to make sure we eliminated that in every capacity, whether that’s coach to player, coach to coach, the messaging coming from the building.”
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