As you’ve no doubt heard as the news echoed throughout the Quadrangle and beyond, the Wisconsin Badgers parted ways on Sunday night with head football coach, Paul Chryst. In a way, it was poetic: Bret Bielema giveth* the Badgers Paul Chryst, and Bret Bielema taketh him away. Some will say that the Badgers’ 34-10 shellacking at the hands of Bielema’s Illini was not really what got Chryst fired, and that the decline in performance experienced by the Badgers in recent years, as well as his struggles to recruit well, meant that this writing has long been on the wall. But even Chryst’s critics were surprised at the timing of his dismissal.
In the wake of Chryst’s departure, Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard will helm the Badgers for the rest of the season. Chryst had coached the Badgers for over seven seasons, and amassed a 67-26 record in that time, winning the B1G west three times, and notching a Cotton Bowl and an Orange Bowl win. But this season, it was clear that the Badgers were no longer the Badgers of yore—already this year a close loss to Washington State, a murdering by Ohio State (52-21), and the aforementioned beating by the Illini signaled that the shine was off the B1G West’s most reliable performer.
So, was this the right move, or did Chryst earn himself a longer leash than he was given? Where should Wisconsin look next? What does the future hold for the Badgers—will they land on their weasel feet, or become another cautionary tale like a certain red and white school in Lincoln? And who should be most jealous of this jettisoning—Iowa or Northwestern? You know we’ve got opinions - read ours, and then hustle down to the comments with your hot takes.
*Yes, I know that there was the brief Gary Andersen moment after Bielema, but that’s not nearly so pithy.
So, how surprised are you that this happened now?
Beez: Hwhat. Uhhhh.
LPW: What the fuck?!?
MCClapYoHandz: Well just landed after a lovely time in Boise and YO WHAT
MaximumSam: Surprised, but only because Wisconsin moves at a glacial pace.
HWAHSQB: Four weeks ago, I’d have put the odds of Frost being fired today at 90% and Chryst at <1.
misdreavus79: Pretty surprised, given that there were no indications that Wisconsin was even in the slightest bit dissatisfied with Paul Chryst’s performance.
Was this the right move, or is this foolishness?
StewMonkey: This is Leonhard’s job to lose, but with Leipold right there, it’s not a wholly terrible position to be in for wisconsin.
WSR: Chryst deserved more time. He was making great progress in returning badger football to where it belongs this season.
Andrew Khystisfiredski: I guess if there’s one thing unforgivable to Barry, it would be losing to Bielema in his first game back in Madison. Bryan Harsin has now outlasted five Power 5 coaches, including Paul Chryst.
StewMonkey: And Barry picked Chryst, firing him would be admitting a mistake, not something Barry would do. This is the new AD asserting dominance.
MaximumSam: The team sucks and the recruiting sucks. That’s usually a combination for failure, and here we are. The only bright spot for them lately has been the defense, and hey, I wonder who is in charge of that? That said, shifting some of that 16 million bucks in buyout money towards some better players probably would have worked too.
HWAHSQB: I’ll put the odds of the next coach coming within 2 wins of Chryst’s average at <20%.
Kind of...: I’m pleased simply because it shows (Wisconsin AD Chris) McIntosh means business.
LPW: I don’t think this is a good idea. I assumed that Chryst would have Wisconsin operating at a high level and he’d be there as long as he’d like. Clearly I haven’t been paying enough attention to the Badgers lately. Hey, if Wisconsin’s AD wants to kneecap his program, fine by me.
Andrew Khystisfiredski: I get that the vibes felt pretty badly off, but this is still a coach with a 67-26 record. Have to assume they tried to have a talk with him about the way the offense looks and he refused to hear it or something.
Kind of...: He was 34-7 through 2017. 33-19 since. McIntosh is trying to avoid a Dantonio-like situation.
AK: Maybe, but Wisconsin’s Narduzzi - Leonhard - didn’t leave and apparently never will so I think that risk is lower. But yeah, if your coach ever decides “fukkit, I don’t need to recruit, my buddies are good enough at developing Whatever Dudes” you better be as good at that shit as Ferentz is and nobody else is Ferentz that way.
BoilerUp89: Firing him mid-season seems like a better way to tank the program than waiting til late November. This feels either like a huge overreaction or something much bigger going on behind the scenes of the Badger football program.
AK: Disagree - we had the same convo when Nebraska fired Frost, the reason you make this call early is if you let the guy hang around, he could beat a couple rivals and save his job. If Wisco beats Iowa and Minnesota this year, even if they only go like 7-5, plenty of boosters will be pissed if you fire the coach after that. If you as an AD have higher aspirations than “usually beating Minnesota,” which I think most of them do, then scratching out the wins that satisfy Don In Fond-Du-Lac shouldn’t be enough.
Kind of...: Well, I don’t know shit, as evidenced by my long spiel earlier where I said he was probably safe through 2023, but I do think this is partly McIntosh asserting himself and partly giving Leonhard a tryout. The division is there for the taking and UW still has talent. It’s Leonhard’s job to win. But, if the season just tanks, then it’s easier to do a full search and the Leonhard supporters are quieter.
Beez: It’s just clear that the longer Chryst stays the further wisconsin gets away from winning the conference aka beating OSU. You could also make the case that Leonhard has been covering up for Chryst for several years. But letting the recrutiing coordinator go and immediately make a big difference at MSU, and then failing to hire someone to replace him for 18 months is a real unforced error IMO.
misdreavus79: If you saw the years 2018 through 2022 as a trend, then yes. Wisconsin had been unable to match the performance of that 2017 years, and even then the gap with Ohio State was pretty wide. You factor in the fact that USC and UCLA are right around the corner, and you have two scenarios:
- The divisions stay the same, and you get one of the California schools, if not both, added to your side.
- They get rid of divisions, and now you actually have to beat the top of the former East in order to even make the championship game.
A deteriorating program and the changes looming means the AD is astutely trying to get in front of it.
Yes, there will be comparisons to Nebraska, but there could also be a comparison to Michigan State. Don’t wait until your roster is in shambles to make the move. Do it when you can still salvage something from what’s there.
Anyone who wanted Coach Chryst gone isn’t a part of this team.— Braelon Allen (@BraelonAllen) October 3, 2022
Who should Wisconsin be calling, and will they answer?
MaximumSam: I have a hard time believing the coaching search will extend beyond on Leonhard, Jim. Even while this move is shocking, it makes sense with recruiting being moved up. Leipold is the other natural name, because he’s a great coach AND he’s from Wisconsin. But that would mean a wholesale change, which isn’t really something I see them doing.
WSR: I can’t wait for wisconsin’s Tim Brewster.
LPW: Wisconsin needs a Tim Brewster or Tim Beckman. Kidding. If Leonhard doesn’t work out, maybe they should call Doeren or Aranda?
AK: Wisco has connections with a lot more appealing candidates than most job openings do on paper. Leonhard, Leipold, Doeren, Dave Aranda - if they pony up, which is a thing they’ve not done in the past, they can make pitches to some excellent coaches.
Kind of...: Wisconsin already had their Tim Brewster. He was named Don Morton, and he went 6-27 from ‘87-’89.
I don’t know if Aranda is possible, but he should be top of list. I mean, it’s Leonhard’s job to lose over the next two months, and if he grabs it, great. Otherwise, everybody will mention Leipold, and I think he’d be a great choice. Matt Campbell’s name will be mentioned, no doubt. In 2012, Alvarez was really impressed by a Utah State team that almost upset UW in Madison. A few months later, he hired Gary Andersen away from Utah State. Washington State just beat UW in Madison and Jake Dickert is from Wisconsin, so he’s probably on the radar.
misdreavus79: I don’t know who they should be calling, but I know who they shouldn’t be calling: Another carbon copy of Barry Alvarez. Look at Bret Bielema and Illinois. He understood that he needed to make a change in philosophy on the offense in order to compete, and he went and did it. Wisconsin has to do the same.
In the medium-term, how do you think this plays out for Wisconsin? Are they able to re-establish a hold on the West, or is this a death knell of an era?
MaximumSam: They need to some fresh ideas (and maybe a receiver or two) to get back into contention. Running the ball and playing defense with six year players is still a sound plan, but they can’t simply ignore all the changes in college football and hope to stay where they were.
LPW: Adding in my $0.02, this seems incredibly shortsighted. I don’t mind if this is the equivalent of Steve Pederson firing Solich at Nebraska, sending that program into Siberia. Wisconsin’s AD should have a damn good reason for doing this.
Creighton: I’m inclined to think Beez is right in that with recruiting not being where it should combined with declining on field results means a program in decline. And yes, much much easier to fire him right after losing to Illinois (and a former HC, and people don’t realize Illinois is good yet) than it will be when he accidentally wins the west somehow.
AK: If the next guy can’t match Chryst’s overall record - which will be really difficult! - people will try to compare this to a Solich or Pelini firing, but the more I think about it the more I like the Dantonio comp even though it’s not spot on. He’s shown he’s capable of great things, but recruiting is the area where you cannot slack off and Chryst really did after MSU swiped Saeed.
BoilerUp89: So, you force Chryst to hire a recruiter or two to his staff.
AK: Not an easy conversation to have when he’s been around much longer than the AD. I’m trying to imagine Mark Hollis or Alan Haller coming into Dantonio’s office and offering input on the coaching staff, even in like 2019 when it was obvious the glory days were over. It would have been a short conversation. Also, even if he has a moment of humility uncommon among coaches who’ve had real success, hiring a guy today means that they MIGHT get their recruiting sorted for the ‘24 class, and those players then have an impact in, what, 2026?
You’re not going to hear me crying for anyone getting a 10-figure check to stop working, you just aren’t. But even if it is the right decision to fire Chryst, it’s pretty likely the next guy doesn’t match his accomplishments and this decision gets retroactively panned by snarky tweets comparing dollars per win and whatnot between Chryst and his successor. The Glen Mason Phenomenon, then: you have to divorce the firing decision from the success of the next coach. If the current guy isn’t achieving like you think your program should be, it doesn’t really matter if you miss on the next guy, it really doesn’t even matter if the next guy is a disaster. Once you decide there’s a certain level you need to be at, you’ve committed to either staying with a guy you don’t think can get you there and being miserable every moment of it, or to spinning the wheel as many times as you need to find the right guy.
Bo Pelini’s record at Nebraska (2008-14): 66-27
Paul Chryst’s record at wisconsin (2015-22): 67-26
But with out the middle fingers to the fan base.
wisconsin has other issues in their program than Paul Chryst. They don’t spend any money on recruiting - I believe UConn spent more last year. They don’t spend significantly more money on assistants than their B1G West peers. Using 2021 numbers because that’s what is readily available, salary pools for assistants were: wisconsin $4.6M, Iowa $5.4M, Minnesota $4.1M, Nebraska $4.6M, Illinois ~$5M. Purdue didn’t actually spend the money but has a $4.35M salary pool for 2022. Exactly why should wisconsin expect to be head and shoulders above the rest of the West? Is wisconsin in the middle of a recruiting hot spot? Do they play a different style of football than Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois?
If the Badgers have a better option available for certain, then by all means go for it. If they don’t though, I’m confused why they think they should be a better program than Minnesota or Iowa or Illinois.
Kind of...: Pelini was going 9-3 every year. Chryst started off 10-3, 11-3, and 13-1. Since then shit-hammering Minnesota in 2019 is really the only huge win. Honestly, beating Iowa and Purdue last year was nice on paper, but those were probably two of the four best wins over the last five seasons. Not enough.
AK: I think the main difference between firing Pelini and firing Chryst is 1) Pelini had not achieved at the level Nebraska judged to be a success (even if that judgment was and is delusional) and 2) Pelini’s temperament was a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.
And I do agree with our Bag Derr compatriots that just chanting Chryst’s career record completely removes the context of the last few years, yet another strong comparison point to Dantonio. I mean, just think about it: Wisconsin used to command dread from most other teams in this conference. Have you, as a fan of a different team, been afraid of Wisconsin in the last several years?
HWAHSQB: Yes. Until yesterday.
misdreavus79: As I mentioned above, there won’t be a West to take control of in a matter of two seasons, so making a decision for potentially one season’s worth of divisions is shortsighted. So, if Wisconsin passes on the opportunity to get blown out by whoever comes out of the East in 2023 in order to better compete in the long term, so be it.
Who is most jealous of this firing—Iowa fans or Northwestern fans?
LPW: I’d love to see Dr Gragg force Fitzy to fire O’Neil and Bajakian.
MaximumSam: Iowa. Northwestern is still in the infancy of hating their coach. Iowa fans have been doing it for decades.
AK: Oh, Iowa for sure. There’s enough there that just a less stubborn coach wins 10 games easily. But Iowa is only the answer because Kuurk has his failson lined up to succeed him, so there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Fitzgerald did at least eveeeeeentually fire an OC who wasn’t working, even if the new guy isn’t any better.
misdreavus79: Great question. I’m going to say Iowa fans, because Fitz has at least shown that if you twist hard enough, he’ll make a change. Ferentz will die on the Hawkeye logo before he changes anything from what has worked for him here and there.
Give us your best Chrystian response to this firing:
MaximumSam: *shuffles feet, looks at floor* “I guess you don’t always see something like that every day, but I dunno, maybe you do.”
BRT: “Coaching in a lot of ways is everything, because the coach is the person who coaches the team, until he doesn’t.”
misdreavus79: [indistinguishable drivel with a couple of real words mixed in to give people the idea I’m actually speaking and not just trying to pass time until they go away or I go away]
MC: “I think it’s important, you know, important to have the right people in places for things. When you kinda have those people, um, you do the things you try to do. And I think over there they maybe didn’t think that was there, you know, the people, so they made a move, and you appreciate that. That can um, be a lot of turnover pretty fast if you don’t have those people, and I think if they struggle a little bit there and keep looking for those people you’re going to look, um, at that chain and say that started with me. Turnover chain my fucking ass.”