UPDATE: Well, the Eagles won’t be hiring Jim Leonhard to replace Jonathan Gannon as their new defensive coordinator. Bummer. He was an intriguing candidate.
The #Eagles and Jim Leonhard mutually decided they would not move forward with his DC candidacy, per league sources. Leonhard had planned to undergo hip surgery and sit out coaching for a year, but when Eagles job opened, both sides had interest in discussing the position, which… https://t.co/3zG4r6Ryy4— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 22, 2023
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW.
With Jonathan Gannon off to Arizona to be the head coach of the Cardinals, the Philadelphia Eagles are now in the market for a new defensive coordinator. According to a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the most recent interviewee is former Wisconsin Badgers defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Leonhard.
The #Eagles have interviewed former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard as they look to fill their DC job, per league source. Leonhard was a 10-year NFL safety who is respected in league circles.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 20, 2023
Leonhard, who started his career at Wisconsin as a walk-on, played four seasons in Madison and became an All-Big Ten and All-American safety three times. He was also an excellent punt returner. After going undrafted in 2005, Leonhard still made the Buffalo Bills roster out of training camp and then had a 10-year career in the NFL with the Ravens, Jets, Broncos, and Browns.
After the 2014 season he retired from the NFL, took two years off, and then became the defensive backs coach at his alma mater. After one season he was promoted to defensive coordinator, where he led one of the best defenses in the country from 2017 to 2022. Halfway through the 2022 season, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was fired and Leonhard became the interim head coach in Madison.
He helped the struggling Badgers to a 5-3 finish on the season and a win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl over Oklahoma State. It appeared that he was in line to be named the full time head coach, but Wisconsin shocked the college football world by hiring Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati. After some deliberations about staying on Fickell’s staff, Leonhard decided to walk away and, allegedly, take some time off from coaching.
According to his bio on Wisconsin’s website:
In Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, UW has ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times. During that time, the Badgers rank third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (110.5), third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg) and first in opponents’ third down conversions (30.5%). Wisconsin has forced 112 turnovers over that span, tied for fourth-most among Power Five Conference teams.
Current Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards excelled in Leonhard’s attacking 3-4 scheme, recording 81 tackles (11 TFL), two sacks, four interceptions, seven passes defended, and one touchdowns in 2017 while racking up 112 tackles (11.5 TFL), three sacks, three interceptions, two passes defended and one fumble recovery in 2018.
Leonhard has been named to the Broyles Award (given to the nation’s top assistant) and has been interviewed for various NFL jobs, including the Green Bay Packers DC opening, over the past few years. I may be biased as an Eagles fan who is also a Wisconsin alum, but Leonhard would be an excellent hire for the Birds and would help improve a talented secondary and would keep the vaunted pass rush intact.