Packers Could Shut Down Fan-Favorite Coach After Past Rejection

Three years ago, the Packers’ Matt LaFleur tried to lure Wisconsin defensive coordinator and 10-year NFL veteran Jim Leonhard away from Madison to take the same post in Green Bay. Leonhard went through the process, interviewed with LaFleur and others in the organization and had the job if he wanted it. Ultimately, he said no. LaFleur turned elsewhere and hired Joe Barry as Packers defensive coordinator instead.

Coach Matt LaFleur could turn back to Jim Leonhard for the Packers defensive coordinator job.

Barry lasted three seasons before coming under heavy criticism this year. He was ultimately fired this week by LaFleur. Now, the job is open again and Leonhard is available, having moved on from Wisconsin after a coaching change there. Seems a simple proposition, one that has been gaining traction on social media and elsewhere—give the DC job to Leonhard.

Veteran Packers reporter Pete Dougherty is not ruling that out, but, he noted, it’s not that simple.

“I would think if LaFleur liked him enough to be ready to hire him three years ago, there’s good reason to think Leonhard would be a candidate this time, too,” Dougherty wrote in his mailbag this week. “On the other hand, LaFleur might not be interested after Leonhard basically turned him down last time – my understanding is, Leonhard wasn’t formally offered the job, but it was implied – and might be inclined to say, ‘Why would I want a guy who didn’t want to be here before?’”

Jim Leonhard a Popular Candidate for Packers Defensive Coordinator

Leonhard has been a name that began cropping up immediately after Barry was fired on Wednesday. After leaving Wisconsin in 2022, he spent last year working as a consultant for Illinois, which is not exactly high-level employment. You’d have to think that if LaFleur still wanted Leonhard, he’d be a slam-dunk to take the job this time.

And he has plenty of support. He is a local guy, of course, but would come at the job from a player’s perspective—Leonhard was a walk-on at Wisconsin and turned that into a productive career in the NFL, in which he was  starter for five different teams.

As PackaDay Podcast owner Andy Herman wrote on Twitter/X: “I have no idea if the Packers are going to interview Jim Leonhard again or if they have any interest. I also have no idea if Leonhard is interested in the job. But to say he’s not a quality candidate when the Packers literally offered him the job last time & the Eagles were super interested in him just last year as a defensive coordinator, seems weird.”

Away From the NFL For 10 Years

The problem with Leonhard, though, is that the breadth of his coaching experience is seven years in with the same college. His NFL career is inspiring  , and the fact that he is 41 gives some hope that he would be more energetic and innovative than Barry.

But he has had not connection to the NFL in a decade. And with the Packers having established themselves as a playoff threat after a rousing end to the 2023 season, is he a gamble worth taking?

“I do think Leonhard is an interesting candidate,” Dougherty wrote. “He was a really successful DC at Wisconsin, and he played in the NFL for a decade, so he knows how the league works and how NFL defenses work. But he hasn’t been in the NFL since 2014, so there probably will be a learning curve a full decade away from the league and jumping right into a DC job.”

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