The Green Bay Packers could shake up their coaching staff next offseason after a disappointing 2022 season, and their former top pick for defensive coordinator is now available.
After the Packers parted ways with former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine following the 2020 season, Matt LaFleur and his staff began searching for their next coach to run the defense. Current coordinator Joe Barry eventually took over the job, but it was an in-state option that excited Packers fans.
In fact, Leonhard was LaFleur’s first choice for the job, but in February of 2021 the Wisconsin legend told the Packers head coach that he’d be staying with the Badgers.
Leonhard had stayed with the Badgers and was promoted to interim head coach this season after the firing of Paul Chryst. However, with Luke Fickell being hired as the permanent head coach instead, Leonhard announced via Twitter that he’d be leaving Wisconsin following their bowl game.
With the Packers on the outside of the playoff race and Barry firmly on the hot seat, there’s a strong possibility that LaFleur could be looking for a new defensive coordinator in 2023, and Leonhard will likely be at the top of the list again.
The Legend of Jim Leonhard
He may not have played for the Packers, but Leonhard is a legend in the state of Wisconsin.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Leonhard was a two-time All-State linebacker at Flambeau High School before joining the Badgers as a walk-on with zero Division 1 scholarship offers elsewhere.
Leonhard became one of the greatest walk-on players in NCAA history. Not only was he a first-team All-Big Ten selection in three straight seasons, he was also a three-time All-American over that same span. His 21 career interceptions are tied for the most in Wisconsin school history.
After going undrafted in 2005, Leonhard proved doubters wrong again by playing in the NFL for 10 seasons. He retired following the 2014 season, then quickly got into coaching by joining the Badgers staff as a defensive backs coach in 2016.
It only took one year before Leonhard was promoted to defensive coordinator for Wisconsin, a role he held onto until he was made interim head coach in 2022. He’s been a highly respected coach across college football, even being named a Broyles Award finalist for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2017.
Leonhard will have plenty of coaching opportunities after leaving Wisconsin, but the Packers are likely to make an aggressive push to bring him up to the NFL level.
What Does the Future Hold in Green Bay?
Leonhard might be interested in coaching in Green Bay, but there are a lot of factors at play that could change in 2023.
The biggest change could be at quarterback, with 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers uncertain on whether or not he’ll play again next season. However, Rodgers dropped a major hint about his future when talking about the emergence of rookie Christian Watson after their win over the Chicago Bears.
If Rodgers does retire, the Packers will have a tough decision to make with former first-round pick Jordan Love. The 24-year-old is nearing the end of his rookie deal, and national analysts are already considering that the Packers could draft another QB successor instead of keeping Love around beyond 2023.
There are a lot of moving pieces, but 2023 will at least be interesting for Packers fans.