Wisconsin is reportedly making a change.
In a stunning move, Paul Chryst has been fired as the Badgers’ head coach, according to ESPN and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The news comes a day after Wisconsin was blown out 34-10 at home by Illinois. Illinois is coached by Bret Bielema, who won three Big Ten titles as the head coach at Wisconsin from 2010 to 2012.
With the loss, the Badgers dropped to 2-3 on the season. A week prior, Wisconsin lost 52-21 to Ohio State in an embarrassing showing. The Badgers also have a loss to Washington State this year. The team’s two wins this season came against lackluster competition — Illinois State, an FCS program, and New Mexico State, one of the worst FBS programs.
Chryst, a Madison native, was in his eighth season at Wisconsin, his alma mater. He won a lot of games with the Badgers, accumulating a 67-26 overall record with three division titles. In recent seasons, though, Wisconsin had slid back into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Since the start of the 2020 season, Wisconsin is just 9-8 in conference play. Wisconsin has also lost 10 of its last 15 games against ranked opponents.
Before returning to Madison, Chryst spent three seasons as the head coach at Pitt. It was his first head-coaching job following a seven-year stint as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator under Bielema. Over Chryst’s first five seasons as head coach, Wisconsin went a combined 52-16 with three division titles and three New Years’ Six bowl appearances.
In recent seasons, though, it became clear that Wisconsin was trending in the wrong direction. The Badgers were competitive in the Big Ten West, but aspirations beyond that seemed far-fetched. The game against Ohio State last week was a clear example of that.
Ohio State jumped out to a 28-0 lead before Wisconsin crossed midfield. And with the slow and plodding way the Badgers play offense, there was no chance for a comeback even with three-quarters of the game still to be played. The Illinois game wasn’t much better.
The Badgers have tried to “modernize” their offense to an extent this season, but they still look like a relic of the past with fullbacks and tight ends galore and plenty of under-center runs. Quarterback Graham Mertz has not come close to developing into a player befitting of his lofty recruiting rankings. He was 17-of-32 for 206 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the loss to Illinois. Even Braelon Allen, the star sophomore running back, couldn’t find any success against the Illini as he finished the day with a measly two yards rushing.
The Badgers have always done more with less, developing under the radar recruits into all-conference players and NFL draft picks. Wisconsin has recruited better than its historical norms in recent years, yet that influx of talent has not elevated the program’s trajectory in any way.
In the end, that fell on the shoulders of Chryst.
With Chryst out, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will reportedly move into the role of interim head coach. Leonhard, a longtime NFL player, began his coaching career at Wisconsin as defensive backs coach in 2016 and was elevated to defensive coordinator in 2017. He has held that role ever since and has been regarded as one of the best coordinators in the country and a potential candidate for other head-coaching jobs.
Wisconsin’s next game is on the road against Northwestern next Saturday.