The Wisconsin Badgers fanbase was shook to the core on Tuesday night when Jim Leonhard announced that he would be leaving the university after the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on December 27. Many fans were disheartened that Leonhard was not retained as head coach, and his decision to not remain on staff is certainly also disappointing to Badgers fans. However, his decision does not mean that he is done coaching within the state of Wisconsin. Fans may remember that Leonhard was the Green Bay Packers’ first choice for defensive coordinator after firing Mike Pettine. Leonhard, however, turned the job down to stay at Wisconsin. Now that Leonhard is leaving Wisconsin, and with Joe Barry on the hotseat, it is possible that the Packers could end up with their original first choice after all.
Three Reasons Why Jim Leonhard Should Be the Packers Next Defensive Coordinator
Of course, in order for Leonhard to be hired by the Packers, Joe Barry would have to be fired. Based on the Packers’ defensive performance this year, that event is certainly a possibility. To be sure, the Packers have not lived up to the hype defensively. The Packers have failed to make adjustments in games and from week to week. In particular, the run defense has been among the NFL’s worst. It is clear that a change is needed, and Jim Leonhard may be the man needed to bring that change.
#1. Jim Leonhard’s Players Get to the Quarterback
One of the areas in which the Packers defense has struggled is in the pass rush. Of course, this has been affected greatly by the season-ending injury Rashan Gary suffered. The Packers front office also did not do a good enough job of getting quality depth at the position. That being said, Jim Leonhard’s players have always been able to rack up quarterback pressures and sacks.
Just this season, Nick Herbig racked up 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.0 sacks. Last season, Herbig had 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks. In addition to his production in 2021, Leonhard was able to elicit 16.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks from Jack Sanborn, who now plays for the Chicago Bears. Leo Chenal, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, had 18.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks for the Badgers this season.
Of course, Leonhard’s biggest star is current Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher TJ Watt, who has already racked up 73.5 sacks in his six-year NFL career.
#2. Jim Leonhard’s Defenses Stop the Run
As previously mentioned, the Green Bay Packers have been terrible at run defense. They currently rank 30th (out of 32) in run defense, allowing 154.8 rushing yards per game. Even in a down year at Wisconsin, Leonhard’s defense ranks 12th in the nation in run defense.
Last season, Leonhard’s Wisconsin defense was the best run defense in the country, allowing just 65.4 rushing yards per game. In 2020, Wisconsin ranked third in run defense at 96.1 yards allowed per game. The year before that, Wisconsin ranked fifth.
In other words, Jim Leonhard knows how to teach run defense, something that the Packers desperately need.
#3. Jim Leonhard’s Philosophy Will Not Take Long to Learn
Jim Leonhard is a pupil of former Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. While Pettine’s defenses frustrated Packers fans during his tenure, it should be noted that the 3-4 defense is utilized by most NFL teams. That being said, Leonhard is a much better teacher of the game than his mentor (and than Joe Barry). The Packers defensive players will benefit from not having to learn a completely new playbook and having a superior coach/teacher leading them.