Leonhard leaving marks a new era of Badger football. For now.
MADISON, Wis. – If Badgers fans bleed red, it’s because Jim Leonhard has their heart. He always has.
His departure from the program leaves an open wound that marks the end of an era.
“For a program built on continuity and stability, it’s been a pretty chaotic two months,” said Jim Polzin, a sports columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.
A fortress of culture and tradition, the ground Camp Randall sits on has become unstable.
“This program always been about UW guys leading, or guys with ties to UW leading, and now Paul Chryst was out on October 2, Jim Leonhard’s out now, it’s a brand-new era,” Polzin said.
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While some are devastated to see him go, many fans acknowledge the future seems bright.
“Initially, my hopes were up because he said he would be staying, and then yesterday we found out he’s not, so it’s a little disappointing because he’s been here for so long about seven years now, but I think the future’s bright with Luke Fickell as head coach,” Brenden, a UW student and fan, said.
Leonhard embodies his home state and Wisconsin football, which UW athletic director Chris McIntosh and Fickell highlighted in statements posted by the football team’s Twitter account Wednesday afternoon.
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“He’s an undersized 5-foot-9 defensive back/punt returner who came here without the promise of a scholarship, and by his sophomore year he was an All-American, left a legacy here, went to the NFL, nobody thought he’d stick around and boom, he has a ten-year career,” Polzin said.
He joined the Badgers’ coaching staff in 2016, and within a year he was revered as one of the nation’s top defensive minds. Despite many offers, he stayed home at Wisconsin, one of the many reasons he’s so beloved by fans.
“The way I describe Jim is that everything he touches turns to gold, and anytime you doubt Jim Leonhard he always finds a way to prove you wrong.” Polzin said.”He’s a classic underdog story.”
Polzin said Leonhard will have his pick of NFL and college jobs, but for Badger fans turning the page to a new era, never say never.
“I absolutely could see him coming back here at some point. He’s only 40. I think that’s the thing to remember, so while this feels very much like the end of an era, I think the way I’d refer to it is a pause in an era because it would not shock me if Jim Leonhard ended up back in Madison at some point,” he said.
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