'It’s time to get it done': Jim Leonhard is ready for Wisconsin to show growth on the football field

MADISON – Even before Paul Chryst was fired Sunday, the hard conversations that come following two blowout Big Ten losses were being had.

Actually, in some regard they’d probably been had over the last month as the Wisconsin football team dropped three of its last four games.

That is the competitive nature sports foster. When situations go bad, coaches and players look in the mirror, rewatch the game and talk out problems in order to figure out what went wrong and what corrections are necessary.

The challenge now, the way interim coach Jim Leonhard sees it, is to execute those changes.

“The messaging in this building is always very consistent with what we expect, what we demand from our players to hold each other accountable,” he said. “To me it’s time to show it. There is no special talk. There is no players-only meeting. There’s no coaches-only meeting. It’s getting it done at this point.

“We know the issues. We know we have to play better. There is no talking anymore. It’s time to get it done. That is what I’m excited about. It’s the action piece of it.”

Wisconsin’s first chance to turn around its season begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Northwestern.

The Badgers (2-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) will take the field ranking last in league games in total offense and 13th out of 14 teams in total defense.

On Tuesday, Leonhard addressed some of the issues behind the team's struggles as well as his expectations. Given his role as defensive coordinator, he was more familiar with the issues on that side of the ball as well as more comfortable discussing them.

Interim head coach Jim Leonhard wants to see the Badgers get back to playing a physical style of ball that leans on the run game, which is anchored by sophomore Braelon Allen.
Interim head coach Jim Leonhard wants to see the Badgers get back to playing a physical style of ball that leans on the run game, which is anchored by sophomore Braelon Allen.

His strongest comments about the unit's play against Illinois pertained to consistency.

“That game was such a mystery of you call a play, you get the exact same play called against you. One goes for nothing. One goes for a big play for them," he said. "That’s the type of consistency we’ve been dealing with. … Is it a trust factor? Is it eyes? What is the issue? That is where we went on defense. How do we make it as tight as we need to give guys confidence?”

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Leonhard hesitated to offer specifics on what ails the offense beyond playing cleaner but did express a desire to see that unit, and the team as a whole, to regain some of the characteristics that have been identified with Wisconsin football.

“I think we’ve always prided ourselves on a physical style of play up front," he said. "We’re going to run the ball and play-action. We’re going to work our play-action off of that. To me, I just want clean football. Penalties (in) all phases, we’ve got to clean things up. We’ve got to tighten up what we do if that is what gets it done. We’ve got to demand these guys to be accountable for style of play.

“I think we’ve been getting outplayed and that is why the last two games have ended the way they have. That’s been our calling card. We’re going to out-physical you. We’re going to outplay you. We’re going to see if you’re willing sit in there for four quarters and just battle.”

The good news for Wisconsin is that only one Big Ten West division game has been played. That will give the team plenty of time to make corrections as well as rebound from the emotional toll Chryst's firing has had on some of the players. That has been one of the biggest jobs for Leonhard during his first couple of days in charge of the program.

However, he has also stressed that a great opportunity still is within reach for the team.

“I think that is the huge part of trying to take the emotion out of it,” Leonhard said. “All right guys, take a look at what the big picture is. If we start playing good football we’re OK. We are still in position to reach a lot of the goals that we set at the beginning of the year and you’ve got to take it a game at a time. You have to turn it around.… You string together some games and all of sudden you’re a dangerous team again.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard wants Badgers to show growth