Paul Chryst fired after 7+ seasons at Wisconsin

In a move that shocked many in the college football world, Wisconsin announced on Sunday that head football coach Paul Chryst is out after 7+ seasons at the helm. The Badgers fell at home Saturday to Illinois to drop to 2-3, but Chryst’s tenure has otherwise been a success.

“After a heartfelt 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,” AD Chris McIntosh said in a statement. “Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and the legacy of him and his family at the University of Wisconsin.”

Chryst is a Madison-native and former Badgers QB who spent eight years on the staff at his alma mater before taking the Pitt head coaching job in 2012. He went an even 19-19 in three seasons there before returning to Wisconsin to lead the program in December 2014.

The accomplishments are many: 67-26 overall record (72% win), three Big Ten West titles, two Big Ten COY awards, four 10+ win seasons, seven bowls (six wins), three NY6 bowls (two wins) and a 43-18 conference record.

It’s been a few years since Wisconsin was in the national picture, but the program remained a league power before a backslide in 2022. Still, it’s rare to see a coach with this much success with a program (their alma mater, no less) get fired for what is seemingly a blip on the radar. It’s possible more news will come out as to what factored into the decision, but for now mum is the word.

On-field achievements aside, the aspect of this change that has people buzzing the most is the buyout. While it appears Chryst and UW have negotiated to a lower (undisclosed as of this writing) amount, his most current contract details dictate he is owned nearly $20M for a firing without cause. The buyouts that major programs are paying have been growing for years, but these numbers are a clear signal that top-tier programs want to win and nearly all costs and there is always a way to find the money to make that happen. Chryst’s number might be the biggest so far, but just this year we’ve seen schools committing to pay fired coaches $15M (Nebraska), $11.4M (Colorado), $11.37M (Georgia Tech) and $8.5M (Arizona State). Editor’s note: Frost’s may still be the most egregious, as his buyout was to drop to $7.5M on Oct 1 but Nebraska somehow couldn’t wait.

Taking over for the rest of the season is DC Jim Leonhard, a former Badger DB who came back to join the staff in 2016 after spending ten seasons in the NFL. The three-time All-American from Rusk County, WI started out as a walk-on and actually stayed off scholarship until his senior year despite being a defensive star.

He went undrafted in 2005 but that did not stop him from playing at the game’s highest level. He logged 73 starts (142 games) and finished his career with 428 tackles, 14 interceptions and 4.5 sacks. His best years were with the Ravens (2008) and Jets (2009-11).

Leonhard has been the Badgers’ defensive coordinator and DBs coach since 2017, getting elevated into the DC role after just one season on staff. Looked at by many as a rising star and future power conference head coach, he should be considered one of (if not the) top candidate for the UW job moving forward.

 

credit to Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports for the photo

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