Former NFL safety Jim Leonhard returns to alma mater as Wisconsin’s new secondary coach

Jim Leonhard picking off a pass against Ohio State, one of his 21 interceptions while starring in Madison.

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Former NFL safety Jim Leonhard is returning to his alma mater to be the Wisconsin Badgers’ new secondary coach, the school confirmed Saturday. 

"I’m very appreciative to have Jim join our coaching staff," head coach Paul Chryst said. "I’m excited for our players and coaches to be able to work with him and learn from him. What makes Jim special is his desire to teach, to help young men grow and to develop them to reach their full potential. He has a tremendous love and appreciation for the University of Wisconsin and our football program. Jim has always been a part of our Wisconsin family and I’m looking forward to him impacting this program in a new role."

Leonhard’s story in one of perseverance. The 5-8 Leonhard arrived at Wisconsin as a walk-on in 2001 from a small town in state and left four years later as a three-time first-team All-American. He tied UW’s school record with 21 interceptions in his career, the fourth-most in Big Ten history, and finished with 50 passes defended — 25 of which came during his breakout sophomore season in 2002. His nation-leading 11 interceptions that year tied the Big Ten’s single-season record. That performance led to Leonhard becoming the first sophomore to be named Wisconsin’s team MVP since 1947.

He also broke the Badgers’ single-season punt return yardage record twice and finished his career as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in punt return yards with 1,347.

Despite going undrafted Leonhard played for five teams in 10 NFL seasons, seeing action for the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns.