This weekend Paul Chryst was let go as head coach and Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard was named interim Head Coach. Now, Leonhard will have a tough challenge of wearing many different hats and handling a lot of different aspects than before.
Today, Leonhard took to the podium to give some insight into the emotion of the last few days, how they are handling this week, and what they need to do better moving forward. Below are some notable quotes from Tuesday’s presser.
To start, Leonhard opened with some very insightful comments about how the team has been since the news broke Sunday night.
“Obviously a unique week here with Wisconsin football but trying to focus the guys and give ourselves a great opportunity to win a big game in the Big Ten West. It’s been a little bit of a scramble the last couple of days just to get everybody settled down and settled in and dealing with a lot of different emotions with the staff and the players but I love where we are at at this point in the week and I think we’re doing as well as we can be to go down there and get a win.”
After that, Leonhard was first asked about the emotion of the team and if he was concerned with how the players in the locker room will handle things this week.
“Absolutely a huge concern we have emotional guys. These are young guys, even the staff. I mentioned it in the opening press conference that we are all here because of what Paul Chryst had done and the trust that he had in us. Very emotional... initially it felt like there was very little I could say to this team to handle that emotion in the moment. It hurt a lot of guys... everyone is going to handle it a little bit differently. My message to the team starting yesterday was to let it settle in, get out of the building a little bit, and let it hurt... a big lesson we gotta learn is how to compartmentalize the emotion of it. Not trying to brush it aside, not trying to make it go away but we have to be able to focus...”
Leonhard was also asked about recruiting which is a huge piece of this current scramble. When asked about the messaging to recruits Leonhard had this to say.
“Big conversations that we're having with those guys and really excited for the response that we are getting. We have a number of kids interested in the program that see Wisconsin for what it is. The true culture of what this place is, the work ethic, the people. Everything we preach is about what this place is and who it is. I think the guy's response has been very solid as far as their commitment to this place and the vision that we told and how we are going to get it done. We’ve still got work to do, we got a lot of work to do and conversations to be had... the response has been very positive and encouraging by a young group of guys.”
Leonhard was then asked about the coaching staff and specifically what might look different in terms of who is calling plays on both sides of the football with Chryst now out of the fold.
“First off, defensively, early in the week, we’re kinda able to operate as normal... I'm going to have a lot of conversations as this week goes on as to what is right for this team. That’s where I gotta use some of the resources I have. What’s reality? What’s the reality with me going into kind of a unique situation for the first time and having to deal with more things on game day... I have a ton of confidence in this defensive staff that even if I have to step back that we’ll execute on game day. Offensively, it’s been more of a question of how can I support you. We took a big piece kinda out of the offensive planning and operations so what’s the best way that we can support you?... response with Coach Engram has been awesome. I like how the guys have bounced back and just buckled down and got to work.”
After that, Leonhard was asked what he wants to see from the Wisconsin offense as they move forward.
“I think we’ve always prided ourselves on, ya know, physical style of play up front and we’re going to run the ball and play action. We’re going to work our play-action game off of that. To me, I just want clean football. Penalties, all phases, we gotta clean things up. We have to tighten up what we do but we have to demand these guys to be accountable for style of play, right? we’ve been getting outplayed, right? We’ve been getting outplayed. That’s why the last two games have ended the way they have. That’s been our calling card, we’re going to out physical you, we’re going to outplay you. We’re going to see if you can sit in there for four quarters and battle you.”
Later, Leonhard was asked about the messaging from the Captains, the players, and the coaching staff itself over the last few days.
“I think the message, coaches, players, alike we had a lot of tough conversations before this news broke. The messaging in this building is always very consistent with what we expect with what we demand of our players and to hold each other accountable. To me, it’s time to show it... we know the issues, we know we have to play better, and there is no talking anymore. It’s time to get it done... We have to stop talking guys, we just gotta put in the work and get it done. The results have to start showing up.”
Overall, I thought Leonhard was very insightful and open about what this team is going through and how they are handling the many different emotions they are facing while also prepping for this week's contest.
As someone who has sat through or listened to many Paul Chryst pressers, there are times when you got very little about what was going on or what he was thinking. Today, Leonhard felt like he gave the opposite. It was a genuine breath of fresh air to hear what this team is feeling and how they are approaching this upcoming contest. I felt he was confident in his answers and really looks to be taking the first step in trying to stabilize this program for the rest of this season and possibly beyond.