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Jim Leonhard's time at home takes precedent over future coaching career

The one piece of clarity in Jim Leonhard's life after football is the location. The Browns safety is adamant on this point.

Leonhard's 10-year NFL career criss-crossed the map, taking him from Buffalo to Baltimore, to New York, to Denver, back to Buffalo and finally to Cleveland. That's 10 full seasons away from his home state, Wisconsin, where he rose to fame as an undersized, three-sport superstar in the teeny, tiny town of Tony (Pop. 105) and went from walk-on to All-American at the University of Wisconsin.

In the days after what he's said will be his final NFL game, Leonhard had few predictions about what his future would hold. He just knew where he'd be when he decided on the next step.

"I'm going back home. I'm going to Wisconsin," Leonhard said. "There's no question about that."

That proclamation likely postpones one career path some have projected for Leonhard. Though Mike Pettine recruited him to Cleveland as a de facto player coach -- a role in which he thrived -- Leonhard said he wasn't yet interested in returning to the NFL for a coaching role.

Jumping into a position like that would deviate from the most important part of the plan. Even if an opportunity surfaced at his alma mater, where former Badgers quarterback Paul Chryst was recently named the new head coach, Leonhard indicated he might need some time to recharge his batteries before he jumped into another football-related endeavor.

"I'm excited to have some time with the family and be home," said Leonhard, who resides in Madison. "If the coaching thing comes about, we'll see. I know eventually I will probably be down that path, but I think I'd like to get a little time and just kind of get that energy back and get that passion for the game back."

You don't have to go far to connect the dots for why Leonhard's path will probably lead to coaching sooner or later.

His father, Don, was his basketball coach at Flambeau High. His mother, Debbie, was also a coach and didn't let pregnancy stop her from leading her team, according to a 2009 New York Times profile of Leonhard.

Leonhard laughed when he was asked how many times he's been asked about coaching in the future. It's something he always envisioned doing, but it's too early to predict when and where it will happen.

"I found out at a pretty young age that I was willing to put in a little more time than most people in learning the game – whether it was basketball, baseball or football. I never felt like I was at a disadvantage despite some of the physical limitations that I may have had, or been perceived to have. I always felt like I knew the game, could make plays and have success."

Passing on that knowledge was a passion throughout his career.

Leonhard keeps a detailed notebook filled with elite players whom with he's shared the field. He updates the roster every now and again to create the "All-Jim Leonhard Teammate Team."

An inquiry from Pettine about the team provided yet another reason to believe Leonhard's post-football career will involve plenty of football.

"I wouldn't want to play that team, the guys he's played with," Pettine said. "I was giving him a hard time. I said, 'Who's going to be your defensive coordinator? Me or (Former Jets coach Rex Ryan)?' He goes, 'Neither one of you. I am.' He said that he would let us both be quality control coaches."

Pettine vowed he and "a whole line of guys" would make one last attempt to woo Leonhard back for an 11th season. Leonhard said he respects Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil enough to listen, especially if they come all the way up to Wisconsin to make their pitch.

"We'll see where it goes from there," Leonhard said.

Barring a change of heart, "there" will be home in Wisconsin.

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