Jim Leonhard Making NFL Jump as Coach, But Not With Packers

Former Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is heading back to the NFL, this time as a coach -- but it's not with the Green Bay Packers.
Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard looks on during
Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard looks on during / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers finally parted ways with defensive coordination Joe Barry this offseason, which opened the door for a new face to take over this unit. Cheeseheads who also root for the Wisconsin Badgers hoped Jim Leonhard would be tabbed as Barry's replacement, but the gig instead went to Boston College's Jeff Hafley.

While Leonhard didn't get this coveted job, it turns out he is coming over to the NFL ranks as a coach for the 2024 season.

ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Folwer report Leonhard is expected to join the Denver Broncos' coaching staff in 2024. He's set to oversee the secondary for legendary coach Sean Payton.

Anyone following Leonhard's career knows this jump to the NFL was a long time coming. His work with the Badgers' defense not only made them a Big Ten contender, but also produced several big-time pro players. That put him on the map as a rising coaching candidate.

When Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst, Leonhard seemed like the obvious choice, though he was ultimately passed over in favor of Luke Fickell. That decision clearly stung, as Leonhard then took an analyst role with Illinois for this past season, allowing him to spend a year away from serious game planning.

It seems like that reprieve (and maybe the Badgers' struggles under Fickell, too) has reenergized Leonhard's coaching journey. He now returns to the pro level after playing 10 seasons in the NFL, one of which (2012) was spent in Denver.

Performing well in this opportunity under Payton may end up leading to major job offers for Leonhard down the line. Perhaps, even in Green Bay.

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