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The Legend of Jim Leonhard (or the Hodag, whatever) // B1G 2022, Wisconsin Potluck #3

Let’s head north to Highway 8 and talk local Wisconsin legends—on and off the field.

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NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

No to Texas A&M. No to Florida. No to Alabama. No to the Green Bay Packers.

If he was going to stay a defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard wanted to stay put in Madison.

Leonhard–as any biography is obligated to note, from the village of Tony, population 113–is now up to almost a million in total compensation at Wisconsin, and at this point there’s seemingly nothing else out there unless a plum head coaching job opens up – almost a Brent Venables kind of situation, perhaps.

It’s a worthwhile comparison and, if anything, insulting to Leonhard. Wisconsin had the third-best third-down efficiency and the fourth-best passing efficiency defense in the country, 27 fewer first downs allowed than anyone else, 14 fewer rushing yards per game than anyone else, and an eye-popping first-almost-across-the-board defensive line rate by Football Outsiders’ metrics in 2021. Frankly it’s nauseating, and I’m tired of talking about it.

Whether operating out of a 3-4 alignment against standard formations (read: the Big Ten) or a 2-4-5 hybrid against Purdue and everyone else, you can find clip after clip of what makes the Wisconsin Badgers defense special. Hell, it’s the first highlight of the 2021 Wisconsin-Purdue game:

The down linemen plug gaps or engage, hopefully, a pair of offensive linemen, leaving a seemingly endless conga of scrappy, undersized, gym-rat, student-of-the-game, coach’s kid, first-in-the-gym-last-out linebackers to scrape with the play, beat pulling guards, or just hit the right gaps. (And guess what? They almost always do it.) Might as well meet the latest crop:

  • OLB: Nick Herbig (Sr – 6’2”, 227#, Kauai, HI) – 4*
  • OLB: C.J. Goetz (RS Sr – 6’3”, 205#, Waukesha) – 3*
  • ILB: Tate Grass (RS Jr – 6’3”, 220#, Holmen) – walk-on
  • ILB: Jordan Turner (RS So – 6’1”, 222#, Farmington, MI) – 3*

Does it get old? Probably not. I hope Kind of… breaks down the badger secondary tomorrow, because frankly I’m tired of talking about this shit.

Tell me, writers:

1. Is it time to crown Wisconsin as “Linebacker U”? Would you chalk up the success of the Badger defense to the LBs and Leonhard, or is there someone I’m missing?

2. What do you think happens next for Leonhard? Is he the UW coach-in-waiting, or will he be toiling away at UCLA or Texas Tech or North Carolina State before long?

3. Does your program have a coach-in-waiting, whether on staff or outside the program?

misdreavus79: No, it’s not time to crown Wisconsin as Linebacker U. It’ll never be the time to crown Wisconsin as Linebacker U., thanks and goodnight.

I’m sure Leohnard will land somewhere before he ends up coaching at Wisconsin, if that happens. They’ll only be able to keep him there for so long, before someone comes and snipes him up.

I’d say the “coach in waiting” candidate for Penn State is Matt Rhule, who is most likely to take the job once Franklin moves on.

BoilerUp89: Wait. wisconsin was Linebacker U? Since when? Leonhard seems like the biggest piece of that puzzle to an outsider looking in, but I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about wisconsin football. It’s a loss every year and that loss has nothing to do with the wisconsin defense and everything to do with the wisconsin offensive line.

Leonhard seems happy staying at wisconsin. He’s surely had other opportunities.

Purdue does not have a coach-in-waiting. Hagen is the only assistant on the staff that might be a decent head coach, but he’s never been a play caller and might just like coaching D-line.

MC ClapYoHandz: Wisconsin is obviously Linebacker U to go along with RBU and OLU and Fat Kicker U and no I’m not being biased thank you kindly. Leonhard is a presumed head coach-in-waiting, at least to those of us outside the building, and it’s been encouraging that he has yet to bolt for more lucrative coordinator offers (even if he does wisely use those moments to boost his salary). I think it’s fair to assume he’d leave for a good head coaching job and he’s earned that, but it’s also fair to assume he’ll be offered this HC job as well the moment Uncle Dad walks out the door. He’s got a young family, he’s not just going to leave for anything.

Townie: FFS. Better rest that arm before you hurt yourself with all that back slapping. Yes, whisky had a good defense last year. No, that doesn’t win them any fancy new titles. That vaunted defense sucked at pass rushing and tackling guys behind the line of scrimmage. They ranked 19th and 22nd respectively…both tied with another defensive juggernaut, Toledo.

I have no insight into coaching changes. And no, PSU’s coaches don’t wait. They get hired away with a frequency that is alarming. That said, I think many assistants see PSU as a springboard to promotions.

MNW: Well, Pat Fitzgerald’s oldest son has finally committed to the program, so I think we’re watching the Ferentzing happen in real time (not that we didn’t already know that).

Part of the Fitz Era had been older coordinators helping a younger coach, but as we’ve turned the corner into “Coach puts his annoying stamp on the program,” now it’s going to be a string of career yes men who occasionally piss off enough fans (see: Greg Davis at Iowa) that they get canned after a short-ish, bad experiment (plsplspls Jim O’Neill).

If you were to ask Northwestern fans of any “coach-in-waiting” legacy, perhaps the one that could come up is a wistful hope that Mahomes-whisperer-turned-Giants-OC Mike Kafka would someday decide to come home and Make Northwestern Fun Again.

Eventually Leonhard will do the Chryst thing where he disappears to…let’s say Syracuse(?) for a couple years, has a modicum of success, and Chryst decides he’s getting old and wants a cushy legacy job in the wisconsin Athletic Department. It’ll be fine–if he can get a decent OC.

WSR: Sure, wisconsin. You can tell yourselves that you’re LBU. You already tell yourselves that you’re rapscallions instead of pathetic drunken louts, so tell yourselves whatever you want.

What’s next for Leonhard? Fuck if I know. He wastes whatever is left of his youth running decent but not actually great defenses, and either becomes the next HC at wisconsin when they inevitably catapult Chryst, moves on to the NFL, or buys a small chain of Culvers and overdoses on onion rings.

I believe that Matt Simon is supposedly our next OC in waiting. Once Kirk Ciarrocca retires in a couple years or goes to Penn State, he’ll probably be the man unless Fleck goes and hires somebody who was never that great of an OC and has already peaked.


Is Jim Leonhard the Coach-in-Waiting?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    (53 votes)
  • 35%
    Yes, but only after he coaches an ACC also-ran for three years.
    (36 votes)
  • 12%
    Nah, he’ll move on.
    (13 votes)
102 votes total Vote Now

The Small-Town Folklore

A whole history of small-town Wisconsin could be written through a trip on U.S. Highway 8 (as one on South Dakota has through just U.S. 14). Spanning the state from St. Croix Falls in the west through the town of Niagara in the east, Highway 8 runs through Turtle Lake and, yes, Tony, Wisconsin, before passing through Rhinelander and Crandon on its way to the border with the Upper Peninsula. You get quite a scan of Wisconsin small-town life along the way just looking at the festivals in those villages:

  • The interstate Wannigan Days of St. Croix Falls and neighboring Taylors Falls, MN (this weekend!), so-named for the floating cook shanty and bunkhouse of the “river rats” who floated timber down the St. Croix River to mills in Stillwater, MN.
  • The Ladysmith “Northland Mardi Gras”, begun as the “Water Carnival” on the Flambeau River in 1937 (also this weekend!).
  • The Hodag Country Festival in Rhinelander, a folk music festival named for this beautiful beast, the Hodag:
Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Even more amusingly, to me, we’ve got to shout-out nearby Crandon, WI, home of exactly TWO things that I know about:

1. Kentuck Days, the town festival named because, in the early 1900s, a whole bunch of Kentuckians seeking jobs in Wisconsin’s timber industry AND safety from violent backwoods feuding sought refuge in, of all places, rural-ass Wisconsin.

2. The Crandon mine, site of a proposed sulfide ore mine in the 1990s and early 2000s opposed by environmentalists and sportsmen alike but eventually settled when the local Sokagon Ojibwe and Forest County Potawatomi said “Fuck you, enough” and used casino revenue to buy the proposed mining site and close it, the third in a hilarious sequence of Native peoples of northern Wisconsin sticking it to Noted Asshole Tommy Thompson (and local racists) and using the law to do so. (One of those links is to the “Walleye War.” Go back and click on it. Now.)

That’s a lot of small-town Wisconsin history you didn’t ask for, writers, but Jim Leonhard is from there, so you might as well learn something about it. You’re welcome. Now tell me:

1. Been to any of these northern Wisconsin cities? Anywhere you recommend?

2. Tell us about the legendary creatures or beings of your locale, please.

misdreavus79: I’ve never been to Wisconsin, so the answer to the first one is no. As per the second, there’s this thing called “el cuco” in the DR, which is kind of like the boogeyman in the US. People talk about how “el cuco te va a comer,” or some variation of that, to basically get kids to shape up.

MC: My experience with northern Wisconsin is woeful at best. River Falls is pretty good for football camps if you’re a high school athlete and I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the town. Minocqua is good for hashtag lake times and dealing with ticks and I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the town. Green Bay is great for watching pro football and I can’t tell you anything about the rest of the town.

I will offer you these legends two, both actual people that live among us. In Madison, we have Art Paul Schlosser, a local street performer known for his eccentric and often improvised songs that once even netted him a reference on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Also a dead ringer for if Paul Chryst found hallucinogens too early in life.

In Chicago, I have to go with Tamale Guy. There’s no nuance to this nickname; if you spend enough time out in Chicago bars, eventually you will be graced by the presence of Tamale Guy, who walks into taverns and sells its patrons homemade tamales from a little cooler he carries with him. Against all reason this is universally accepted by everyone involved.

MNW: I’ve spent non-zero time in a good number of these cities, but I’m going to go with a bougie answer and opt for Bayfield, up on the South Shore across from Madeline Island. Nice wineries nearby, good camping and biking.

The biggest and usual one in Minnesota is the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, whether you believe it’s Bemidji or Brainerd or the city you can’t pronounce, Aitkin. The 10,000 lakes are his and Babe the Blue Ox’s footprints, etc., etc.

WSR: Does Deer Lake just past Taylors Falls count as northern wisconsin? Either way, I cannot recommend going to wisconsin unless it’s an area full of Minnesotans from the Twin Cities who have their cabin there. If it was good enough for Kirby Puckett and Vince Flynn, it’s good enough for me.

And as for anything legendary from where I grew up…there was a pilfered Minnesota Highway 69 sign on a post in a driveway out in the middle of nowhere, Wright County. And the person who had it knew that feral youths would try to steal it, because the bolts holding it in place were stripped, it was covered in grease to make it slipperier, and at one point there was a small barbed wire fence around it. Did any of those deter us from trying to take it in the middle of the night when I was in high school? Absolutely not. Did we succeed?


Some people say that the sign is still there to this day, taunting local youths who NEED a Minnesota Highway 69 sign.