Badgers football: Paul Chryst, Barry Alvarez confident in unconventional hires of Jim Leonhard, Bob Bostad

March 1, 2017 GMT

With spring practice less than two weeks away, one of college football’s best defenses must begin breaking in two of the most unconventional coaching hires of the offseason.

University of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst filled his open defensive coordinator position Feb. 2 by promoting defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard, who has just one year of coaching experience after recently retiring from a 10-year NFL career. Three weeks later, Chryst brought former UW offensive assistant Bob Bostad back to Madison to coach inside linebackers, a position he’s never coached.

“Very conventional hires,” Chryst said with a laugh when asked about the two at a special event Tuesday night to celebrate the 100th year of Camp Randall Stadium.

Bostad spent time as the Badgers’ tight ends coach, offensive line coach and running-game coordinator from 2006 to ’11, when Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator, and has coached strictly on the offensive side of the ball since playing linebacker for UW-Stevens Point from 1986 to ’89.

Chryst said he made initial contact with Bostad with the idea of making the switch to coach inside linebackers for the Badgers. He believes Bostad’s experience as an offensive line coach can help give the Badgers’ deep and talented group of inside linebackers a different perspective on the position.

“I went to him first and said, ‘You may think I’m nuts but this is what I’m thinking,’” Chryst said. “I think the world of him as an offensive line coach. I just wanted him to know what I was thinking, and then it didn’t take long when we talked about it that he had an interest.”

The NCAA may soon add a 10th assistant football coach at the FBS level, likely by January of next year, and some believed that could have played a factor in the hiring of Bostad. Adding an extra assistant coach could allow UW to shift Bostad’s role to something different than inside linebackers in the near future.

Chryst said that isn’t the case, however. Bostad’s hiring was made with only the present day in mind.

“With Bob, I don’t wonder if he’ll be a good coach. I’m confident about that,” Chryst said. “This was truly, what’s the best way to fill out our nine spots. I think with the 10th coach, there’s talk about it and you want to start to formulate a couple different directions you might go with it. But you don’t know when any of this is happening, so it was just, ‘What’s the best thing for this group right now?’ The 10th had no impact on it.

“I don’t feel like we’re taking a flyer on it or checking it out. It’s not an experiment.”

Chryst has spent much less time with Leonhard, but he’s confident the 34-year-old will prove to be a great hire as well.

UW’s secondary elevated its play under Leonhard last season, as the Badgers finished 30th nationally in passing defense and second in interceptions. The team’s four staring defensive backs combined for 16 of its 22 picks on the year.

Chryst met with UW athletic director Barry Alvarez about the decision to hire Leonhard, and both came to the conclusion he was ready to make this jump despite his lack of experience.

“Jimmy’s always been a coach when he played,” said Alvarez, who coached Leonhard at UW from 2001 to ’05. “I think anyone that he played for in the NFL used him as such. He’d get players lined up. He made every check and every call when he played.

“I thought our secondary (last year) played better than any secondary that we’ve had since I’ve been here, so there’s no doubt in my mind that Jimmy will do an outstanding job.”