Jim Leonhard announces he will not return as UW's defensive coordinator

Jim Leonhard, who was passed over for the Wisconsin Badgers head football coach opening, says he won't return to team as defensive coordinator under new coach Luke Fickell.
Jim Leonhard, who was passed over for the Wisconsin Badgers head football coach opening, says he won't return to team as defensive coordinator under new coach Luke Fickell.

MADISON – Jim Leonhard announced Tuesday night he will not return as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator in 2023.

Leonhard plans to coach UW through the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, set for Dec. 27 in Phoenix.

“It has meant the world to me to be able to pour my heart and soul into the UW football program for the last seven years,” Leonhard wrote on Twitter. “After discussions with my family and Coach Fickell I will remain DC through the bowl game but will no longer be part of the staff after the conclusion of the 2022 season.

“It has been an honor to coach these young men and thank you to all the fans who supported us along the way.”

Sources told the Journal Sentinel last week Leonhard was going to return in 2023.

Leonhard, 40, served as UW’s secondary coach in 2016 and took over as defensive coordinator in 2017.

From 2017-21, UW finished in the top five nationally in total defense and scoring defense four times.

During that run, UW’s average rank was third in points allowed (17.3 per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 per game), first in pass-efficiency defense (110.5 rating) and third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg).

New head coach Luke Fickell has hired two of his key defensive assistants from Cincinnati – defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Tressel and co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Colin Hitschler.

Mike Brown, Cincinnati's passing-game coordinator/wide receivers coach, is expected to join Fickell at UW.

Gino Guidugli, the Bearcats' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, could also join the staff. However, he is reportedly a finalist for the head coaching position at Western Michigan.

Western Michigan officials reportedly hope to a new head coach sometime this week.

UW is preparing for the bowl game without offensive line coach Bob Bostad, who took a similar post at Indiana.

Athletic director Chris McIntosh and Fickell on Wednesday released statements regarding Leonhard's decision.

“Jim Leonhard will forever be a Badger,” McIntosh wrote. “He has made us proud at every turn, as a player, as a coach, as an ambassador for our program. As interim head coach, he navigated extremely difficult circumstances over the last two months of the season, always putting our players first and helping them through a trying time in their lives.

"For that, we owe him our gratitude. I have every confidence that Jim will be successful in whatever he chooses to do with this next chapter and I wish him, Katie and the boys nothing but the best.”

Fickell wrote:

“Jim Leonhard is the epitome of what we want this program to be about. Selfless, hard-working, passionate. I enjoyed getting to know him more through our conversations and look forward to spending the next couple weeks with him. After our discussions, it was decided it was best for all of us to come to this conclusion. I admire Jim as a coach and as a person and I look forward to following his successes in the future.”

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jim Leonhard says he won't return to Wisconsin to lead defense