On Wisconsin’s Release of Paul Chryst

As all who care are aware, University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh released Wisconsin Head Football Coach Paul Chryst on Sunday.  Mr. Chryst has been replaced on at least an interim basis by the team’s former Defensive Coordinator, Jim Leonard.

This may be the first time that I have addressed Wisconsin athletics in these pages; virtually all of my football focus has, since my preteen days in the Chicago area, been directed to the men who play on Sunday [and now on Monday and Thursday 😉 ].  By the rarest of coincidences, at the kind invitation of a good friend I attended the Badger game against the University of Illinois this past Saturday.  Although I came to the game with eyes conditioned by the NFL, putting aside that college teams understandably lack the skill and do not play in the mode of the professionals, it was glaringly apparent that Wisconsin’s team had limited passion and lacked discipline.  Illinois won 34 – 10.  Wisconsin couldn’t control the lines of scrimmage and had no run game – both hallmarks of the Badger football tradition established by former Athletic Director and Head Coach Barry Alvarez.  The stands were not completely full.  The fans were audibly unhappy.  It was easy to guess that the big Wisconsin athletic donors were expressing their displeasure about the program’s status to Mr. McIntosh.

Although I abhor the big business that college football has become, the fact remains that it is a big business.  Many millions of dollars ride on it for an institution like the University of Wisconsin.  We have lived in Madison long enough to remember when the University’s football team was awful.  Over the last thirty years, the program has maintained a consistent level of eminent respectability under the auspices of former Athletic Director Pat Richter and Mr. Alvarez.  Once such eminence is lost, it is hard to regain.  Sitting in the stands Saturday – and watching the crowd as well as the game – the program’s standing certainly seemed to me to be teetering.  Mr. Leonard, who in recent years has become a highly regarded college coach after a distinguished professional career (and he’s young, which in addition to his professional pedigree would also appeal to recruits), is a hot college head coaching candidate that the University risked losing if it clung to Mr. Chryst, who is by all accounts a fine man who indisputably lacks charisma.  Sometimes remove provides perspective; based upon this one afternoon, if advising Mr. McIntosh, I would have indicated that if he didn’t replace Mr. Chryst now, the program suffered additional erosion of its prestige during the remainder of the season, and he lost Mr. Leonard to another school, his own job would be at risk.

Two final notes.  First, it seemed to me that when it was clear that Illinois was going to win the game, Illinois Head Football Coach Bret Bielema – who succeeded Mr. Alvarez as Head Coach at Wisconsin, and I understand was on the same coaching staff with Mr. Chryst – let up.  Illinois repeatedly ran the ball into the middle of the line, although the gaps it had theretofore exploited in the Wisconsin secondary remained available.  Illinois could have tacked on another 10 points had it wanted to.  I suspect that Mr. Bielema has high personal regard for Mr. Chryst, retains enough background about the innards of Wisconsin athletics to have understood that Mr. Chryst was on shaky ground, and didn’t want to humiliate him.  I have never cared for Mr. Bielema, but that was classy.

Finally, I suspect that a disadvantage coaches now face because college athletics are big business is that universities’ upper echelons have less tolerance for middling performance than was the case decades ago; the advantage for someone like Mr. Chryst is the report I’ve seen that the University will perhaps owe him $16 million for letting him go.  No one likes hearing that s/he isn’t wanted, but his is probably the best severance package any Wisconsin state employee will receive for quite a while.

2 thoughts on “On Wisconsin’s Release of Paul Chryst

  1. Just to verify that the Noise did indeed make the observations MacIntosh should act now on Saturday, and remained resolute despite my comments that Chryst would be given a longer leash. The severance number is now reported at $11M. Mr. Chryst seems to have lived more modestly than the typical B10 Head Coach, so he should be set for a good while. Leonard now has a 7 game trial in front of him. But he still has the same players. If they continue to underperform, MacIntosh will face a more interesting decision at the end of the season.


    1. Absolutely agree — bringing to mind the long-ago comment of legendary Yankee Manager Casey Stengel, who, when asked about the methods that had brought about his many World Championships and pennants, replied, “There were many; but the three main ones were named DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra.” That said, unless Mr. Leonard looks woefully overmatched as a head coach from a game management standpoint, I could see the Administration giving him time to recruit players that may be drawn to his youth and professional pedigree.


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