Eric Katz wrote this in January, but it applies again after Wisconsin’s embarrassing home loss to Washington State Saturday:
On paper, head coach Paul Chryst has had a successful tenure. He has a combined overall and conference record of 84-42, won three Big Ten West titles, two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, and has only lost one bowl game. He also has had four double-digit win seasons in seven years. Chryst is also will most likely pass Bret Bielema for second all-time in career wins in program history. While all that is good, Badger fans are still clamoring for more and some even want him fired. While it’s alright to expect more from the program, fans should be careful what they wish for if they want Chryst gone. Badger fans should be more grateful for what Paul Chryst has done for Wisconsin.
Stability Was Needed
Before Chryst was lured away from Pittsburgh, the Badgers football program was in trouble. Gary Andersen departed bizarrely for Oregon State after just two years, in-state recruiting was in bad shape and if you thought this passing attack was bad the one Andersen left was worse. The program was headed in the wrong direction and was close to going back to the dark days. Knowing the lack of success Andersen has had since leaving Wisconsin, the ghost of Don Morton would return to haunt the program.
Andersen was a terrible hire, and UW athletic director Barry Alvarez should have been able to figure that out. UW got very, very lucky that Andersen left.
When Paul Chryst arrived, the program needed stability. Chryst has been with the Wisconsin football program for six years. Stability has been provided. High School coaches across the state of Wisconsin trust and have great relationships with him. With how in-state recruiting was under Andersen, I doubt we would have ever seen the rise of Braelon Allen without Paul Chryst coming back.
Remember When Nebraska Wanted More?
If you want to look at a program that got too greedy; look no further than the Big Ten rival Nebraska Cornhuskers. Despite all that Bo Pelini accomplished during his tenure, Nebraska couldn’t accept anything less than a National Championship. Nebraska fired Pelini and hired Mike Riley from Oregon State. Riley would last just three years and go 19-19 overall and 12-14 in the Big Ten. He also didn’t appear in a bowl game during his last season there. Riley would be fired after the 2017 season.
With a program now in mediocrity, the Cornhuskers hired University of Central Florida head coach and former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost. Frost was considered a hot hire at the time due to coaching the Golden Knights to an undefeated season. Since the hire, Nebraska has become almost irrelevant. Frost hasn’t had a winning season or have gone to a bowl game during his tenure. Most suspect that he wasn’t fired due to hot jobs being open this coaching cycle. Frost is facing a make-or-break year and Nebraska is far from where they were under Pelini. He also got the program under an NCAA investigation that is ongoing. This is meant to be a cautionary tale to Badger fans clamoring for more and wanting to fire Paul Chryst.
Frost was fired after the Cornhuskers’ game Saturday. He is leaving Lincoln with a $15 million buyout. Katz does not mention that Pelini’s predecessor’s predecessor was Frank Solich, who was fired for not being Tom Osborne — I mean, for only winning 75 percent of his games. Solich was replaced by former UW offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who was fired and replaced by Pelini, who was eventually fired and …
A History of Bouncing Back
Historically the Badgers have bounced back from disappointing seasons under Chryst. We can’t really use 2020 as a measuring stick due to the circumstances COVID-19 kept throwing at the program. For example, in 2018, the Badgers had high expectations to follow up a fantastic 2017 season. They opened the year ranked fourth in the country and had a lot of returning players. Instead, the Badgers finished the regular season at 8-4, including having bad losses to BYU, Northwestern, and Minnesota. They would salvage that year with a victory in the New Era Pinstripes Bowl.
In 2019, the Badgers bounced back in a big way. They finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and won the Big Ten West. This ultimately culminated in an appearance Rose Bowl which they were a bad pass interference call away from winning. The Badgers would finish the year ranked 11th in the country.
While there are still things that Chryst needs to fix with the Wisconsin offense. He seems to be on the right track so far. He recently moved Bob Bostad back to the offensive line, an offensive coordinator will be hired, and he got former UCLA wide receiver Keontez Lewis from the transfer portal. While we all want the offensive coordinator to call plays, at the very least he’ll take a lot off of Chryst’s plate. Coach Chryst has clearly learned that it’s too much work to be the boss, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, and play caller. Not all coaches are willing to admit defeat like that.
Success Despite Wisconsin’s Academic Standars
Wisconsin will always be primarily an academically focused institution. The University will never admit a recruit who has bad grades but is successful on the field. Chryst has done an outstanding job embracing that challenge. He has been able to still recruit great players, develop legitimate NFL prospects, and be successful on the field. I doubt any other coach would be able to work with Wisconsin’s academics and be successful. Heck, it’s the reason Gary Andersen left in the first place. Having a coach who understands the University having gone there is what makes Chryst amazing.
Be Careful Not to Choke on Aspirations
For Badger fans wanting Chryst fired, be very careful what you wish for. Nebraska has become a poster child for what not to do if you want more. It took years for Wisconsin to be elevated to the heights they are at now. If it were to come crashing down, you’ll beg for Chryst to come back. While we all want the program to accomplish big things, Paul Chryst is good enough to make those dreams a reality. While there are problems that need to be addressed on offense, Chryst has fixed issues before and he’ll do it again.
I am always most aggravated by home losses. But nonconference losses are not nearly as damaging as conference losses. Recall in 1999 that UW inexcusably lost at Cincinnati, but went on to become the first Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls.
Jeff Minter adds:
Wisconsin is the 7th winningest program the last 10 years
So I ask this…if we aren’t talking about Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame, LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma…what program has been more impressive in recent history?
Badgers are doing better year in and year out than Texas, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, USC, etc….
Chryst isn’t going to be fired anyway because UW still draws well. If people stop going to games (and therefore UW loses ticket revenue), that will be a warning sign for Chryst’s future, but not before that.