By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst
July 26, 2023
(Cover photo courtesy Jamie Sabau/USA Today Sports)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Leonhard will be doing his senior analyst role from inside Smith Football Family Center in Champaign.
An Illinois team official confirmed to IlliniGuys.com will be “in the office” doing the new job for the Illini program that was announced by head coach Bret Bielema on Tuesday afternoon.
Leonhard was announced Tuesday to what the Illini program is calling a “Senior Football Analyst” role less than a month before preseason camp will start for the 2023 season and less than 24 hours before Bielema stepped to a podium at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at Big Ten Football Media Days.
Bielema confirmed Wednesday that Leonhard’s work schedule in Champaign will be from Sunday evening to Thursday evening so he can be with his family in Madison, Wis. every weekend during the season. Leonhard and his wife, Katie, have three sons, Reese, Graham and Pierce.
“He will not travel with us and he can’t have anything to do with our recruiting,” Bielema said. “I just think the more good coaches that you can have in the building, it’ll always be beneficial. That’s the way I see it and do it.”
Bielema confirmed that he reached out to Leonhard on the day that it was announced at Wisconsin that he would not be retained as the Badgers head coach.
“I immediately asked him what he wanted to do knowing that I didn’t have an open staff position,” Bielema said. “He had a lot of things to look at and wasn’t in a hurry but I told that what I’d love for him to do here is a senior analyst role, don’t just help our defense but I want you to work with our offensive staff on what you’re seeing on the defenses we’re going to play. I want him involved in special teams too because Jimmy was an excellent special teams player too.”
It isn’t uncommon for off-the-field analysts to execute the responsibilities of the position remotely due their job functions being mostly of a scouting and game plan nature that could be done with a wireless internet connection and accessed through the servers inside the facility. However, Leonhard will be in the building to allow him to be present for every possible staff meeting and film study, preparation or breakdown.
NCAA rules allow 11 coaches, including the head coach, and four graduate assistants to directly instruct players on the field during practice and games. Therefore, Leonhard will not be permitted to have 1-on-1 instruction with Illini players in this job capacity. Team officials have confirmed to IlliniGuys.com that Leonhard’s work will typically be in a scouting capacity identifying trends and tendencies in Illinois’ schemes of all three phases of the game and being able to help newly promoted Illini defensive coordinator Aaron Henry with future game plan breakdowns for upcoming opponents this season.
“Jimmy’s football IQ is off the charts. I first met him when he was a player and I was a first-year defensive coordinator and I walked out of that first meeting saying to myself that he was different,” Bielema said Wednesday. “Any time I can bring somebody in where I really respect the way I see the game, it’s going to be a great tool for me.”
Leonhard spent six seasons as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator from 2017-22, including last year while serving as interim head coach. He started his coaching career at Wisconsin in 2016 after a 10-year NFL career and one of the most successful playing careers in Wisconsin history. Leonhard was first seen inside the Smith Family Football Center in the spring during Devon Witherspoon’s private draft workout but media reports were swirling around him being a hire to an NFL defensive staff but before his first appearance in Champaign, Leonhard reportedly took his name out of consideration for the defensive coordinator role with the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Leonhard’s exit agreement with Wisconsin requires the university to pay him a total of $1 million from March 2023 through Jan. 2024. Leonhard is also owed personal leave and vacation pay. The agreement only mitigates the buyout payment if he's hired as a head coach or defensive coordinator for an NFL or Football Bowl Subdivision program through Jan. 31, 2024 but this hiring does not require him to repay to the University of Wisconsin.
Local media reports out of Wisconsin in the spring suggested Leonhard would want to get a medical procedure done on his hip but Bielema said Wednesday he was unaware of any medical condition for his new analyst hire and Leonhard would be available to start when fall camp opens.
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