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Former Browns defender could be candidate for defensive coordinator job next year

Wisconsin passed over Leonhard to hire Luke Fickell

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns defense and special teams have been a problem most of the season. From missed assignments, missed tackles and just wide-open running lanes, DC Joe Woods has been under fire from fans for most of the season due to their poor performance on that side of the ball.

While their Week 12 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers included a solid defensive performance, the Browns could win their last six games and end up at 10-7, but many would still question Woods’ future with the team.

So far, HC Kevin Stefanski has given very little indication that he is thinking of moving on from Woods. If he does, a few names (like Wade Phillips) have been tossed around as options. After a big move in college football, another name just popped on the radar and it is a former Cleveland defender.

Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati to be their head coach. The former Ohio State player and one-time interim head coach brought the Bearcats to prominence and now cashes in to go to the Big Ten. In taking the Badgers job, Fickell takes over from their interim head coach Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard had hoped to take over full-time at his alma mater. While Fickell is open to keeping the former interim head coach on as his defensive coordinator, Leonhard could be looking for a different opportunity. How about a return to Cleveland?

A former safety for the Browns as well, there is a bit of nostalgia and legacy there to lure Leonhard to Cleveland.

After a 10-year career in the NFL including his last being with the Browns in 2014, Leonhard had been Wisconson’s defensive coordinator for six seasons before taking on the interim head coaching role after Paul Chryst was fired this year.

While he may be most remembered for fair catching almost every punt that came his way, Leonhard’s coaching of the Badgers defense is impressive:

In Leonhard’s five seasons as defensive coordinator, UW has ranked among the nation’s top five in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times. During that time, the Badgers rank third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (110.5), third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg) and first in opponents’ third down conversions (30.5%). Wisconsin has forced 112 turnovers over that span, tied for fourth-most among Power Five Conference teams.

At this point, Cleveland is focused on this week’s game with the Houston Texans and finishing out the season strong. If Woods’ unit continues to be a concern, replacing him has to be near the top of the team’s offseason to-do list.

If Woods is let go, hiring Leonhard could be a huge coup for Stefanski and the Browns.

What do you think about the potential hire of the team’s former safety as defensive coordinator?