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Report: Florida State interested in Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard

Would a move to a higher-profile program lure Leonhard away from the Badgers?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin Badgers-Training Camp Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY NETWORK

Update, 8:10 p.m. CT: According to FootballScoop on late Wednesday afternoon, Leonhard is “not expected to leave Wisconsin.” That’s according to their sources, though it is intriguing to see Florida State also look at Deion Sanders for their defensive backs coach position.

When a program has sustained the amount of success the Wisconsin Badgers have, it is only logical other programs would look at Paul Chryst’s assistants in hopes of luring them away from Madison.

Defensive coordinator has been the key target, with LSU taking away Dave Aranda to lead the same position for what was at the time Les Miles’ program starting in the 2016 season. His replacement at Wisconsin, Justin Wilcox, continued UW’s defensive success last year before taking over the head coaching duties at Cal.

Just earlier this month, outside linebackers coach and defensive run game coordinator Tim Tibesar agreed to become Oregon State’s defensive coordinator (though he will stay on through Wisconsin’s bowl game).

Now, it appears first-year coordinator Jim Leonhard is being targeted by a major college football power.

Gridiron Now’s James Coleman reported on Tuesday that Leonhard’s name has popped up and is picking up “traction” in the search for Florida State’s next defensive coordinator. From his report:

What I hear is that Taggart has been engaged in a courtship with Leonhard from the beginning stages of his tenure in Tallahassee and that Leonhard is among the top targets. Taggart continues doing his due diligence on Leonhard, so let’s do ours.

247Sports’ Evan Flood, on his post about the report, noted in the comments section that “FSU definitely wants him.”

Granted, this report is just stating that Florida State and head coach Willie Taggart want the former walk-on turned All-American turned 10-year NFL veteran. Would Leonhard be interested?

FootballScoop’s Zach Barnett reported on Wednesday that according to a source, “it would take something special to get him to leave his alma mater.”

Leonhard is without a doubt one of the fastest-rising assistants in college football. Just last year, he took over the defensive backs coaching position from the departing Daronte Jones, and head coach Paul Chryst trusted the former Badger enough to lead the defense with just one year of coaching experience at this level.

The first-year coordinator has responded, helping guide his players to become one of the best defenses in the FBS. UW ranks No. 1 in total defense (253.2 yards per game) and team passing efficiency defense (96.31). The unit also ranks No. 2 in rushing defense (92.6 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) on the way to a 12–1 record and a Capital One Orange Bowl berth against No. 11 Miami (10–2).

Back on Dec. 18, the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway featured a story on the topic of opportunities in coaching football and Leonhard’s name potentially being thrown around for other gigs:

"I’m new to the coaching world,” Leonhard said, “ but I’ve obviously been in sports, and to say that you’re going to be in one place for your whole life or your career, that’s just generally not what football is. I’m very fortunate to be doing it here with Coach (Paul) Chryst right now, and I love everything about it. So I’m not in a hurry to get out of here, that’s for sure."

Galloway also noted Leonhard’s possible connections to the NFL, but the former safety acknowledged he was not putting his name out everywhere.

"I think you see what opportunities are out there, but I’m not necessarily throwing my name all over the place,” Leonhard said. "I’m not necessarily looking for a lot of opportunities at this point, but I will listen when things come. I’ve put myself in a position to listen and see what’s out there, but I’m excited to be here. I love everything about it."

As long as Wisconsin continues the success it has earned the past few years, expect names like Leonhard’s to be considered as targets and candidates for other programs.