It’s safe to say that Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard has done a good job in righting the ship following the unexpected firing of Paul Chryst following an embarrassing loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini in Week 5.
Leonhard has two wins to one loss on the season, including a much-needed 35-24 of the Purdue Boilermakers to return to .500 as the Badgers approached the bye week.
Now, with the second half of the season upcoming, questions have begun to swirl around Leonhard’s future in Madison and if he’ll retain the head coaching position at the end of the season.
Speaking to reporters on Monday following the bye week, Leonhard strongly expressed his beliefs that he’s capable of being Wisconsin’s next head coach, which seems to be a resonating message around the locker room.
“I know I’m capable. it’s been really exciting for me to see the response of the coaches [and] of the players. It’s been exciting just to see the certain little changes you’ve made and kind of the buy-in of the messaging and the play on the field. It’s exciting for me to see all of that,” Leonhard said.
The season could’ve certainly taken a turn for the worse after the firing of Chryst, which Leonhard acknowledged, but the 38-year-old coach has been excited about the response from the locker room.
However, Leonhard understands that the bigger changes would occur after the season, which only happens if he earns the full-time position.
It obviously could’ve went a different direction. I know I’m capable of it. I would be excited for the opportunity and it’s fun to get the chance to really affect some change this season, and see what we could get it done, knowing that a lot of the big changes that would have to happen are really coming after this season if I were to get this position.”
When asked about potential changes to the program should he retain the job, Leonhard expressed confidence in his abilities as a head coach, instead pointing towards the day-to-day applications of what would happen as a current unknown.
“No question on my ability to [coach this team], [but instead], it’s: what’s the right structure? Whose involved, what does that look like, [and] what is my role on the day-to-day? That’s really the only questions I would have on what would be best for the program in a lot of cases and what direction do things need to go.”
Leonhard stressed that the foundation of the program is intact and doesn’t need any fixes, but that he’d like to emphasize certain areas that have slipped in years past, such as player development.
We do not need to reinvent the wheel. There’s things that we need to do better and ways we need to adapt, [but] we don’t need to start from ground zero. The foundation on what this place is and how Wisconsin has won is strong. We just have to get back to detailing up the things that need to be done better and that would be a lot of the emphasis going forward.”
Leonhard did admit that speaking to the players about the potential future of the program did put them at ease after the amount of uncertainty, which could be fixed if the interim coach was granted the role full-time.
“Number one, this place has always been about the culture and the players. We have to get back to doing that a little bit better. We let some things slip a little bit and just a little bit of gray. [We] want to make sure we eliminated that in every capacity, whether that’s coach to player, [or] coach to coach, [or] the messaging coming from the building,” Leonhard said. “Really, last year [was kind of] the first time that I addressed the yearly plan with our team and with the coaches a little bit, and I think it just helped put them at ease, understanding that a lot of this stuff doesn’t change right now. But, thoughts are there. I have a lot of thoughts on what we can do better, [with] number one, being that player development side. If it truly is about the guys and how you develop on and off the field, [then I’m] going to put a lot of resources into that and making sure our players have the right people around them all day every day.
Overall, it appears that Leonhard has a good grip on the program, with a plan that should elevate Wisconsin’s status after a couple of subpar seasons.