Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst after a 2-3 start

Wisconsin is making a difference.

In a stunning move, Paul Chryst has been fired as the Badgers’ head coach, the university announced Sunday night. The news comes a day after Wisconsin was defeated 34-10 at home by Illinois. The Illini are coached by Brett Bielema, who won three Big Ten titles as Wisconsin’s head coach from 2010-12.

“After an honest and authentic conversation with Coach Chryst about what is in the long-term best interest of our football program, I have concluded that now is the time for a change in leadership,” Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh said. “Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and his and his family’s legacy at the University of Wisconsin.”

With the loss, the Badgers fell to 2-3 on the season. A week before that, Wisconsin lost 52-21 to Ohio State in an embarrassing performance. The Badgers also have a loss to Washington State this year. The team’s two wins this season came against weak competition — Illinois State, an FCS program, and New Mexico State, one of the worst programs in the FBS.

Chryst, a Madison native, was in his eighth season at Wisconsin, his alma mater. He won many games with the Badgers, amassing a 67-26 overall record with three division titles. In recent seasons, however, Wisconsin has slipped back into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Since the start of the 2020 season, Wisconsin is 9-8 in conference play. Wisconsin has also lost 10 of its last 15 games against ranked opponents.

Paul Chryst coached his final game at Wisconsin on Saturday when the Badgers were blown out by Illinois. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf)

Before returning to Madison, Chryst spent three seasons as Pitt’s head coach. It was his first head coaching job after a seven-year stint as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator under Bielema. In Chryst’s first five seasons as head coach, Wisconsin went a combined 52-16 with three division titles and three New Year’s Bowl appearances.

Recently, however, it has become clear that Wisconsin is headed in the wrong direction. The Badgers were competitive in the Big Ten West, but aspirations beyond that seemed far-fetched. Last week’s game against Ohio State was a clear example of that.

Ohio State jumped out to a 28-0 lead before Wisconsin drove down midfield. And with the Badgers’ slow-and-tough style of play on offense, there was no chance of a comeback even with three-quarters of the game to play. The Illinois game wasn’t much better.

The Badgers have tried to “modernize” their offense somewhat this season, but they still look like a relic of the past with an abundance of fullbacks and tight ends and a lot of running under center. Quarterback Graham Mertz hasn’t come close to developing into a player befitting his lofty recruiting rankings. He was 17 of 32 for 206 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the loss at Illinois. Even star sophomore running back Braylon Allen was unable to find success against the Illini as he finished the day with a measly 2 yards rushing.

The Badgers have always done more with less, developing under the radar into all-conference players and NFL draft picks. Wisconsin has recruited more than its historical norms in recent years, but that influx of talent hasn’t elevated the program’s trajectory in any way.

In the end, it fell on Crist’s shoulders.

With Chryst gone, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhardt will step into the role of interim head coach. Leonhardt, a longtime NFL player, began his coaching career at Wisconsin as the defensive backs coach in 2016 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017. He has held that role ever since and is considered one of the top coordinators in the country and potential candidate for other head coaching positions.

“I have confidence in Jim Leonhardt to lead the program through the end of the season. There is still a lot of season left to play and I know Jim will do a great job while the program is under his leadership,” McIntosh said.

Wisconsin’s next game is on the road against Northwestern on Saturday. They are 9.5 point favourites, according to BetMGM.

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