An updated look at the defensive coordinator search at Wisconsin

Now that the job has been officially posted, BadgerNation updates the defensive coordinator big board.

For the third time in three seasons, Wisconsin needs to find a defensive coordinator. We’ve gathered several names through trusted outlets and speculation who are all either realistic options, rising candidates who should get a look at or pure speculation candidates who would be good fits.

This big board should change significantly pretty soon but the Badgers – who were set to pay Wilcox $950,000 in 2017 – will have money to work with to draw some attractive candidates across the coaching landscape.


Wisconsin Defensive Backs Coach Jim Leonhard

Despite only having one season of coaching experience and needing to replace three starters from 2015, Leonhard helped the starters register 16 of the team’s 22 interceptions. Leonhard’s lack of coaching experience is a negative and running a defense with only one season of college coaching is highly unlikely, but Leonhard has become one of the hottest names rumored for the job is certainly on the path to running a defense. We can confirm that Chryst and Leonhard have discussed the position, so this rapid rise may continue.

Wisconsin Outside Linebackers Coach Tim Tibesar

Likely the top internal candidate, Tibesar interviewed for the job last season but was passed over for Wilcox. Tibesar has coordinated defenses at Purdue, Kansas State and North Dakota, as well as being a defensive coordinator for Montreal in the CFL. Tibesar was one of the main factors for T.J. Watt’s breakout season in 2016, although his history as a defensive coordinator isn’t spectacular. If Tibesar gets passed over again, how long would he stay, especially since it’s wildly assumed Leonhard won’t be going anywhere? If Wisconsin doesn’t hire him to coordinate a defense, somebody surely will sooner rather than later.

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Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Josh Conklin

Conklin has the potential to be a home run hire and a huge steal should a large program such as Wisconsin come in and swoop him from Pittsburgh. Conklin is another name that has risen through the ranks fairly quickly, going from safeties coach at Tennessee to defensive coordinator at Florida International to his current job. Fans should be pleased if Wisconsin decides to kick the tires and see if there’s any interest.

Illinois Defensive Coordinator Hardy Nickerson

We’re told that Nickerson also interviewed for the Cal job as well, having played in Berkeley as a player himself. Having now been passed over by the Golden Bears, could Nickerson jump to the old post left by the man who now holds the job he wanted in the first place? Nothing is too concrete here, but it could be something to watch should any of that sentiment come to fruition.

Former Florida Atlantic Head Coach Charlie Partridge

Fired after going 3-9 in three consecutive season, Partridge will almost certainly look to get back in the game as a coordinator. A big plus is Partridge’s previous experience at Wisconsin, especially having already held the defensive coordinator role and worked with Chryst for four seasons. He’s also a tremendous recruiter in Florida and would be a huge addition to any staff.

The stumbling block here is the scheme. Partridge has spent his entire career in a 4-3 and it appears evident that Wisconsin is unwilling to change out of a 3-4 (why would they?). Partridge is likely a long shot for the job, but he has experience coaching linebackers. Perhaps he could be UW’s next inside linebacker coach?

Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports

Appalachian State Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody

A previous nominee for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football, Woody has been a rumored candidate for many programs around the country. Beginning his career at Wofford, Woody has spent the last four years at Appalachian State and has developed the defense into one of the units in the Sun Belt Conference. He also has a history coaching inside and outside linebackers.

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