Paul Chryst and the Wisconsin Football finished the regular season with an 8-4 record, falling just one game short of winning the Big Ten West and competing for a Big Ten Championship. But, as you know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.
Losing the Axe game undoubtedly hurts beyond words, and It left a distaste in the mouths of a small, yet vocal portion of the fan base. Some of which have called for the replacement of Paul Chryst as head coach of the program and the end of the season.
Now, I believe this is a severe overreaction, and a suggestion I don’t think is even remotely close to coming to fruition. During his seven-year tenure as the head coach of the program, Paul Chryst holds a 64-23 record (.736%) and has won three Big Ten West titles (2016, 2017, 2019).
It’s also worth mentioning that Paul Chryst is a two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (2016, 2017) and is 5-1 in bowl games. That’s all quite impressive for a coach some feel the program should move on from in the off-season.
Now, let’s see how head coach Paul Chryst compares to two of the program’s most decorated coaches in recent memory..
Paul Chryst compared to head coaches of years past
Barry Alvarez (.609 win%) – (.692 bowl win%) at Wisconsin.
Brett Bielema (.739 win%) – (.333 bowl win%) at Wisconsin.
Paul Chryst (.736 win%) – (.833 bowl win%) at Wisconsin.
The biggest difference of course is that the two previous head coaches each have three Big Ten Championships under their belt – a feat Paul Chryst has yet to achieve.
His overall success rate is one I don’t think badger fans should take for granted. Sustained success is what he was brought in to help protect, and he’s done exactly that.
It’s vitally important that eventually, Paul Chryst finds a way to win the big game because at some point, winning the Big Ten West simply won’t be enough. Chryst has had UW squarely in a position to claim a victory in the title game two separate times in his career- so I have reason to believe he’s capable of doing so.
Paul Chryst has improved the program’s recruiting efforts
A large portion of the program’s success in recent years has been tied to Paul Chryst’s effectiveness in putting a fence around the state in terms of recruiting. Dating back to 2017, Paul Chryst has signed the #1 player in Wisconsin every single season.
Also, if you use the 247 recruiting rankings – Wisconsin has landed 21 of the last 25 top-five rated players in their respective in-state classes. It’s pretty damn impressive how successful Chryst and his coaching staff have been at keeping Wisconsin’s best in-state prospects home and shouldn’t go without being mentioned – because homegrown players want to play for their in-state program.
He’s also improved on a national level, creating pipelines in new states the program hasn’t had success in recently. In 2020, Paul Chryst had the 26th ranked recruiting class, and followed that up with the 16th ranked class in 2021 – which I think goes to show just how successful he’s been at improving the overall talent level of the program.
Evaluating the state of the Wisconsin Football program
Wisconsin is 19-12 over their last two seasons, which certainly isn’t up to the standard that we’ve grown accustomed to. So, do the program’s first two-year absence from the Big Ten title game since Paul Chryst took over warrant a firing? Certainly not.
All programs have had seasons of the cyclical downturn – even the top programs in the nation. Wisconsin has adherent disadvantages when competing against those elite programs, so to never expect a down year is naive. Also, if these are the programs worst down years, there are many other programs that would happily trade places.
Wisconsin, as a program has an identity. The reason they’ve been so consistently successful is because of their power running game, controlling the ball, and playing tough defense.
I don’t think it’s in the program’s best interest to try and reinvent the wheel here. Instead, they just need to inject some new ideas to build upon what they already do well to keep things fresh.
To move on from Paul Chryst entirely, you have to know with100% certainty that what Wisconsin has isn’t working and can’t work in the future. And if we’re being honest, Wisconsin’s seven-game winning streak showed us that we’re nowhere near that being true.
Wisconsin got back to what’s made them great, and the wins started stacking up. Despite some tough showings this season, and a few poor individual performances – there is still more than enough reason to believe this team can be successful moving forward – under Paul Chryst no less.
Knee jerk reactions can set programs back significantly, and I don’t think new AD Chris Mcintosh is looking to shake things up.
The elephant in the room – Jim Leonhard
The reason fans are so quick to call for Paul Chryst’s head is that they have one of the nation’s brightest young stars in defensive coordinator – Jim Leonhard.
Yes, Jim Leonhard has been successful at everything he’s done in his professional career to this point, but there is still no guarantee he’s going to be a great head coach (although I think he will be). Also, to think Leonhard can go out and immediately recruit and win at a higher level with the same disadvantages the program already faces would be unfair to anyone.
Wisconsin fans might not want to hear this, but it might even be beneficial for Jim Leonhard to take a head coaching gig should the right one present itself so he can get some experience running a program under his belt. Because I have little to no doubt that when the Wisconsin head coaching vacancy does come open, he’ll be the name at the top of the program wish list and I sincerely believe he’ll take the job.
Exuding patience is tough but it’s the only rational choice for Wisconsin football right now. If you were to abruptly move on from Paul Chryst, you best not be wrong – because you could set back the future of the program in a significant way, undoing everything that Barry Alvarez did to get Wisconsin to this point.