Category: Badgers

A firing that won’t do what you think it will

Pat Forde:

The NFL is supposed to be the shark tank of football, an eat-or-be-eaten cauldron of pressure, a place where job security adheres to the league’s acronym: Not For Long. And yet it’s kind, gentle and patient compared to the current cutthroat world of college football.

That’s the sport where administrators love to talk about things like “student-athlete welfare” and building character and teaching life lessons. Well, here is the current life lesson in college football: everyone and everything is expendable, at any time. We will ditch a conference via covert operations for more money, and we will fire a coach who starts to slip in a heartbeat. Watch your back.

NFL coaches fired thus far this season: zero.

College coaches fired thus far this season: five.

Scott Frost at NebraskaHerm Edwards at Arizona StateGeoff Collins at Georgia Tech. And on this particularly bloody Sunday, Karl Dorrell at Colorado and Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. And the last of those is a shocker.

Chryst is more Wisconsin than cheese curds and bratwurst. He was born in Madison, spent some of his childhood living a few blocks from Camp Randall Stadium while his dad was an assistant coach, went to school there, was an assistant coach there, and then was a highly successful head coach for seven seasons. But when the eighth season veered off course, bam. He was out.

Chryst is 67–26 overall, 43–18 in the Big Ten, won three Big West division titles and had three top-15 finishes. But a 2–3 start to this season, punctuated by an ugly home loss Saturday to former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Illinois, marked the end.

Paul Chryst won three Big Ten West titles and two New Years Six bowls and was a two-time Big Ten coach of the year.

It’s a cold, cold business, cloaked in rhetorical puffery. Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh did his part by delivering a few platitudes in the school’s release announcing Chryst’s firing: “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. 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.”

Funny way to demonstrate that respect and admiration, firing him Oct. 2. The annual autumnal administrative panic started to pick up three years ago, and now it’s reached a new peak.

The in-season firings also make a mockery of what programs preach about commitment and togetherness during the hard winter workouts, the spring practices, the demands that players stay on campus together through the summer. Commitment and togetherness are disposable if the season starts badly. The transfer portal beckons, and the coaches are sent packing.

Then the talk bluntly shifts from thanking the fired guy to getting ahead in recruiting. The December signing period has become a massive season disruptor—yet another college sports problem sitting there in plain sight, yet going unremedied. Move signing day to the spring and end the rationalization of in-season firings due to the recruiting calendar.

But, hey, Chryst walks away a very rich man, having been given a pay raise to $5.25 million all of a year ago—the latest in a long line of extensions that end up costing a school a fortune when they don’t pan out. Per his contract, the buyout is a reported $16.4 million. The days of pandemic pay cuts and furloughs certainly receded quickly. Fiscal restraint left college sports a long time ago, and it ain’t coming back.

It’s all just silly money in the sport at present. The media rights deals are skyrocketing, the salaries are skyrocketing, the facilities never stop being built and modernized, and now the NIL collectives are kicking into high gear. And what comes along with that is a desperation to win that is leading to an epidemic of in-season firings.

Every situation is different, and every coaching change has its own nuances. Nebraska waited too long to fire Frost, then rushed ahead with it even though it could have waited until October and saved itself an additional $7.5 million. (But why? Silly money. Burn it if you’ve got it.) It could be argued that Arizona State and Georgia Tech waited too long as well. Colorado is in terrible shape, but Dorrell was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year as recently as 2020.

Wisconsin’s move is different, more cold-blooded but not without some reasoning behind it. Interim coach Jim Leonhard, the defensive coordinator, has been a very successful assistant and had his name bandied about for other jobs. This gives him an in-season audition to see if he’s head coach material.

And then there is the potential Lance Leipold Hiring Derby scenario. Leipold, the coach who has gotten Kansas off to a miraculous 5–0 start in his second season in the hardest Power 5 job in the country, could be the object of desire at Nebraska. And if Wisconsin has also set its sights on a guy who has deep ties to the state, well, this could explain the urgency in firing Chryst.

Leipold is a Wisconsin native who was a graduate assistant with the Badgers 30 years ago. He also was a small-college coaching giant, winning six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater. (Not unlike former Badgers basketball coaching legend Bo Ryan, who won big at the D-III level before getting his star turn in Madison. Remember, athletic directors love trying to find repeatable hiring formulas.)

The fact that it took Leipold until age 51 to get a shot at an FBS job—and then it was a Buffalo, in the Mid-American Conference—is part of what ails big-time college football. But he’s made up for lost time, both there and now at Kansas, and suddenly he’s the hottest 58-year-old with a 7–10 record in his current job on the planet.

It’s a strange new day when the possibility exists of Nebraska and Wisconsin fighting over the Kansas football coach. But that might be where we’re heading.

As for where the sport as a whole is heading? Deeper into the shark tank. Someone else will be dismissed next week. But at least they’ll say nice things about the freshly fired guy in the release. It’s the college football way.

Some UW fans who are spoiled by the kind of success UW has had since the 1993 season (and either forgot or don’t remember what UW football was like in the seasons before Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison) seem to believe that Leonhard’s elevation to head coach will fix everything. That requires you to believe that Leonhard will change offensive schemes (no coach blows up his offense or his defense — which, by the way, gave up 86 points in the previous two games)  in the middle of a season) and somehow get players who play better than the current team.

Maybe Chryst was destined to be fired at the end of the season. But firing a coach in the middle of a season hasn’t made things better than Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler told his men’s basketball coach, Bill Frieder, who was heading to Arizona State at the end of the season to not wait to leave. That was in 1989.

In the arms race that is college football UW should improve its facilities. But it seems unlikely UW will be able or willing to compete in the Name Image and Likeness environment created by Ohio State or Alabama. (Or Texas A&M, which has the best team money can buy, but with underwhelming results.)

And as Nebraska fans have found out, blowing up what you’re doing and changing things (in Nebraska’s case, coaches) because you think that will improve things may not. Wisconsin’s formula in both football and men’s basketball has been developing in-state players who may not necessarily be four- or five-star recruits. Watching a lot of running plays isn’t always exciting to watch, but Chryst won nearly three-fourths of his games.

How will Badger fans feel if a new coach installs the sexy offense du jour and the Badgers stop winning? Does the name “Don Morton” (of the Veer from Victory offense) sound familiar? (Back in 1988, when Morton was on his way to a 1-10 season in which the one win came despite the Badgers’ being shut out, I went to a game and sat next to an alumnus who said he was trying to get Dave McClain, who had coached the Badgers to four consecutive seven-win seasons, fired when McClain died. Really.)

A Morton-style disster almost happened when Alvarez replaced Bret Bielema with Gary Andersen, who thankfully left (for reasons as strange as Bielema’s departure for Arkansas) before he could tank the program. Andersen ran the wrong offense for a cold-weather team, but Alvarez hired him for some reason, and Alvarez was fortunate that Andersen left on the way to, like Bielema, getting fired.



Fire everybody! But …

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

That’s consistency

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.

Bucky, the Packers, the Brewers and the Bucks vs. Goldy Gopher, Viktor Viking et al

Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune:

Current head-counting has the Minnesota population at 5.7 million and Wisconsin at 5.9 million. The major difference is that 3.65 million of Minnesotans are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area. The Milwaukee metro is 1.58 million and Madison, located 80 miles west, is 670,000.

Wisconsin’s larger population is fed by more mid-sized cities than in Minnesota, including Green Bay, home to an NFL franchise with a metro area population of 325,000.

Tom Oates, the now-retired, long-time columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, said: “I was asked frequently in press boxes, ‘How can Green Bay support a football team?’ Those people don’t understand how it works in the Midwest, and for sure, in Wisconsin.

“The Packers aren’t Green Bay’s team. They are Wisconsin’s team.

“There are no divided loyalties in Wisconsin. Everyone is a Packers fan, everyone is a Brewers fan, everyone is a Bucks fan and everyone is a Badgers fan.”

Oates paused and said: “Except Marquette in basketball. Marquette fans don’t like the Badgers in basketball.”

Much of Minnesota’s rivalry with Wisconsin stems from similarities. Population (as cited). Lakes, woods, fishing and deer hunting. Starkly divided politics by urban and rural.

Twin Cities media outlets have thrived on claiming “hate” for Wisconsin teams and their fans, but they are basically us — with a few more 16-stool taverns in the small towns.

The Minnesotans embracing that hate are having a very tough 21st century. And the competition taking place around pandemic outbreaks in 2021 has been toughest of all.

Consider the period from July 20 to July 27:

On the first of those Tuesdays, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years. On the second of those Tuesdays, Aaron Rodgers showed up in Packers camp after an offseason drama in which management refused to trade him.

In between these two happenings, the Brewers were winning two out of three in a home series vs. the White Sox. The attendance for the series was 111,287, and the Brewers’ lead was seven games in the National League Central.

Here in Minnesota, the lowly Timberwolves were preparing to sit out the NBA draft after a trade that ridded them of Andrew Wiggins and brought in No-D-Lo Russell, the Vikings were about to discover that their quarterback’s plan to avoid another COVID quarantine was to shield himself with Plexiglas, and the Twins finished July last in the woeful AL Central, 17 games behind the White Sox.

What was left was for the Minnesota’s haters of Wisconsin sports entities was to gaze eastward and say, “This interstate rivalry has gone from bad to worse.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin started playing football in 1890. The only year missed was 1906, when 19 deaths in college football the previous season had caused a national campaign to ban the activity. Wisconsin’s response was to play a five-game schedule that did not include its “fiercest” rivals: Minnesota, Michigan and the University of Chicago.

The game was almost missed again last season because of the pandemic. The Gophers bowed out of two late games because of COVID issues, then agreed with the Big Ten to play at Wisconsin in mid-December.

A subpar Gophers team lost to Paul Chryst’s worst Badgers team 20-17. The Badgers are 16-1 in Paul Bunyan’s Axe games since 2004. There are other huge discrepancies, but leave it at this: 0-7 in Axe games vs. Bret Bielema.

In men’s basketball, coach Greg Gard had a group of seven seniors that primarily disliked him. And they beat the Gophers 71-59, putting Richard Pitino at 3-11 vs. Wisconsin and helping him to get fired after eight seasons.

Worst of all, there’s volleyball, where Hugh McCutcheon has the best program on the Twin Cities campus. The Badgers played for the national title in last spring’s delayed season. Now, they enter the fall season rated No. 2 in the nation, with the Gophers at No. 7.

Wisconsin has a two-time NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo, said by Oates and other observers to be an all-time great guy. It has a three-time NFL MVP (including 2020) in Rodgers, an all-time great quarterback. And it has a Brewers team that’s 25 games over .500 with the 2018 MVP, Christian Yelich, still waiting to get warm.

Plus, the Brewers now have Eduardo Escobar, “Effervescent Eddie,” who’s supposed to be our guy.

Face it, alleged haters of our Wisconsin rivals. They own us.

Minnesota is known as having 10,000 lakes (the correct number is 11,842). Former Gov. Tommy Thompson would say that Wisconsin had more lakes (15,874), “and ours have fish in them!”

YouTube provides us with a couple of highlights:


Beyond the coach

Nick Niendorf:

The Badgers are once again on the hunt for a new head coach.

Wisconsin fired head coach Jonathan Tsipis on Tuesday after the Badgers were blown out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament by Illinois, 67-42.

The Badgers put up just two points in the first quarter of the game and were unable to mount a comeback, losing to an Illini squad that had won just four games all season. The loss ended Tsipis’ tenure with a 50-99 overall record.

“I appreciate Coach Tsipis’s efforts during his five years with us, but we feel it is time for a new direction for our women’s basketball program,” director of athletics Barry Alvarez said in a press release.

While Wisconsin looked to be making progress in Tsipis’ third season after going 15-18, the Badgers failed to build on that momentum. They went 3-15 in Big Ten play the next year and won just one B1G game this season.

Wisconsin is now one decade and two head coaches removed from their last winning season.

As the oft-applied logic of college program building goes: who you hire is important, but the coach you hire after that is who really matters. But what if a program’s expectations grow too lofty too quick?

For the Badgers, that second hire was Lisa Stone, in 2003. Stone succeeded Jane Albright, who had just finished a 7-21 season with the Badgers.

But Albright was only one year removed from a 19-12 record and a first-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. She had turned the Badgers program around immediately in her first season at UW in 1994 and amassed a 154-86 record, a WNIT title and five NCAA Tournament appearances before her final year.

The down year, however, was enough to convince Wisconsin’s leadership — who had agreed with Albright at the beginning of the season that she would either get a long-term extension at year’s end or be out of a job — that Albright wasn’t worth the investment. Albright resigned at the end of the season when the extension didn’t come.

“The on-court success for our women’s basketball program has been clearly inconsistent with the resources we have committed to this program, and we have not achieved our desired goals of a Big Ten conference championship and deep penetration into the NCAA tournament,” then-UW senior associate athletic director Jamie Pollard said at the time.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Stone, Albright’s successor, struggled in her first three seasons at Wisconsin, but then made the WNIT three years in a row, including a Finals appearance. She hit pay dirt a year later after a 21-11 season landed the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in almost a decade.

Only a year after Stone received the Big Ten Coach of the Year award for her efforts, she was fired in 2011 following a 16-15 season and a WNIT second-round exit. Alvarez echoed the words of Pollard eight years earlier and said the “program has not reached and maintained the level of success I believe is possible.

Wisconsin nailed the first part of their program rebuild back in 1994. They found a coach who was successful right away, who established a clear basketball identity in the program and who even made it to the second round of March Madness a couple times.

But Wisconsin’s leadership had drawn their line in the sand, and the newfound success Albright had brought the Badgers wasn’t enough.

Truth be told, Wisconsin still did well to hire Stone despite the self-inflicted circumstances. Stone continued some of Albright’s success and kept Wisconsin relevant in the Big Ten. Even if she wasn’t the coach to take them to the next tier, few coaches are, and sustained competitiveness is worth a lot in college basketball, especially when you’re not a blue blood.

Now, rather than searching for that second coach in the program building equation, Wisconsin is back to where they were all those years ago. Let’s just hope they’re lucky enough to land the next Jane Albright or Lisa Stone.

Note how well Albright and Stone did compared with other UW coaches:

  • Marilyn Harris (1974–76): 16–20. (This was when women’s basketball wasn’t an NCAA sport yet.)
  • Edwina Qualls (1976–86): 131–141. Her best season was 19–8 in 1982–83. By the end of her stay, Qualls had, I recall, a somewhat toxic relationship with the Madison media.
  • Mary Murphy (1986–1994): 87–135. Her best season was 20–9, 13–5 in the Big Ten, and the Badgers’ first NCAA tournament appearance.
  • Albright (1994–2003): 161–107, with five NCAA tournament appearances, runner-up in the 1999 Women’s National Invitation Tournamenbt, and 2000 WNIT champions.
  • Stone (2003–11): 128–118, with 23 of those wins and 13 of those losses in 2006–07, when the Badgers were WNIT runners-up. Despite four WNIT trips and an NCAA appearance, Stone was fired in favor of …
  • Bobbie Kelsey (2011–16): 47–100.
  • Jonathan Tsipis (2016–21): 50–99.

After having been fired following her fifth consecutive UW winning season, Stone is now the coach at Saint Louis, where she has had six consecutive winning seasons, including an 11–3 record this season. Albright was fired after a 7–21 season, and went on to Wichita State and Nevada, where she had losing career records. That 7–21 season, however, followed back-to-back NCAA tournament trips.

Whatever progress Albright and Stone made was erased in Kelsey’s tenure. Her nadir, and the road to her eventual firing, came when she was asked a question about Barneveld native Hannah Whitish, who had a great career at Nebraska:

That is the sort of thing you say to your team in practice or in a team meeting, not to the press. (Though I’m sure the assembled reporters and the Madison sports media loved this.) Throwing your team under the bus in public has not been shown to improve their performance. Players insufficiently motivated to work to improve themselves should be a high school issue, not an issue for student–athletes on scholarship. Did Kelsey recruit the wrong players, or did she insufficiently motivate her own team well before this? Either way, the responsibility ends up in the same place.

So UW replaced two coaches with winning records with two coaches who had records deep in the Loss column. I’m a little surprised Tsipis got fired, especially after this COVID season, but evidently UW athletic director Barry Alvarez wasn’t seeing the kind of progress he wanted to see.

To some extent, though, this is Alvarez’s fault. UW has had a decades-long problem of failing to get the state’s best players, from Janel McCarville (Minnesota) to Whitish, to play at UW. They did have one of the state’s best players, Estella Mosckkau, this past season, but that was after she played at Stanford for three seasons. She averaged 5.8 points a game this season.

One list of non-Badgers from Wisconsin includes Megan Gustafson (Iowa), Arike Ogunbowale (Notre Dame), Natisha Hiedeman and Allazia Blockton (Marquette), Chelsea Brackmann (Bradley), and Sydney Cooks (Michigan State, then Mississippi State).

The state’s top recruit, Beaver Dam’s Matyson Wilke, is reportedly coming to Wisconsin. But UW–Green Bay, coached by Kevin Borseth (whom UW should have hired but did not because he was the wrong gender), has the second-, third- and fourth-ranked recruits.

That list of non-Badgers is not like, say, Diamond Stone spurning UW for Maryland (and then playing in Europe after failing in the NBA following one season as a Terrapin) or Tyler Herro rejecting UW for Kentucky (and then the NBA), or the Hauser brothers getting Minnesota coach Richie Pitino to give them a package deal that was half-unwarranted. Everyone knows that Wisconsin men’s basketball isn’t about one-and-done players. The list one paragraph ago constitutes players that either weren’t recruited by UW, or found UW wanting. Alvarez needs to find out why and change that if he expects the next coach to be better than the previous two.

It would also be helpful if the new coach could build a wall around the state as Alvarez managed to do with his football team. (For that matter it would be interesting if UW were to contact those non-Badgers and ask them why they didn’t come to UW.) The problem doesn’t seem to be girls basketball talent in Wisconsin; it seems to be girls basketball talent in Wisconsin that doesn’t want to play for the University of Wisconsin.

There is a template for success. That is the UW women’s volleyball team, currently ranked number one in Division I, with several NCAA tournament trips over three coaches (the first of whom, Steve Lowe, died of lung cancer not caused by smoking). I suspect UW succeeds in volleyball because of sufficient resources, and UW fails in women’s basketball because of insufficient resources. (Apparently not in coach pay, though, based on this interesting conparison.) A more successful program would attract more fans (UW ranked 25th in Division I and ninth in the Big T1e4n in attendance in 2019–20, averaging not even 4,000 in the 17.287-seat Kohl Center) and therefore more money.

At this point it also might be time to change coach hiring models. It seems unlikely that UW will promote one of its assistants, as the Badgers did with men’s basketball coach Greg Gard (after Bo Ryan quit in midseason, which reportedly did not make Alvarez happy at all) or Alvarez’s successor Bret Bielema (which worked, his personality notwithstanding, until Bielema’s ego reached the size of his stomach). As with any coach hire, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (see Brad Soderberg, who replaced Dick Bennett after his midseason resignation, only to be ushered out the door after a disastrous NCAA tournament appearance, and football coach Jim Hilles, who replaced Dave McClain after his death, then was not hired for the full-time job after three wins).

Stone, Kelsey and Tsipis were all assistants from successful programs hired to be head coaches for the first time. That worked with Alvarez and hockey coaches Mark Johnson and Tony Granato. (With former Virginia assistant Bill Cofield, not so much.)

The other model is to hire a head coach from a smaller school — for instance, football coach Paul Chryst (although he arguably was from both camps having been an assistant for Bielema), Ryan and his predecessor Bennett. Albright coached at Northern Illinois before heading north on Interstate 90. Of course, that model doesn’t always work either (see Morton, Don, and Andersen, Gary).

Since no one else seems to have compiled a list, here’s a possible list (based, by the way, on no inside information):

  • Alaska–Anchorage coach Ryan McCarthy, who has won 83 percent of his games in nine seasons as a head coach of the Division II school.
  • Missouri State coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, who is 46–6 in her two seasons. “Coach Mox” and McCarthy seem to come up in head coach candidate conversations for other schools.
  • Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk, a former Iowa player and Marquette assistant who has won 68 percent of her games.
  • Oregon associate head coach Mark Campbell. (Having flopped with two promoted assistant coaches, the Badgers probably should look deeper into what the assistant coach does if Alvarez wants to find an assistant coach.)
  • Nicki Taggart Collen, head coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, who played at Purdue and Marquette (and before that Platteville High School) and has had several successful stints as a college assistant. Collen would be an outlier hire as was Stu Jackson, who got UW to its first men’s basketball appearance in 47 seasons, then left to return to the NBA.

The Badger/Packer basketball/football tripleheader

Saturday is going to be an historic sports day in Wisconsin. Thanks to the vagaries of the coronavirus and TV scheduling, it will be the first time the Badger basketball and football teams and Packers will play on the same day.

The day will start at the Kohl Center at 11 p.m. for Louisville at Wisconsin …

… before shifting to Camp Randall Stadium for the 3 p.m. kickoff of Minnesota and Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

To the northeast, the Packers, presently with the number one NFC seed, host Carolina at 7:25 p.m.

This is the first time the Badgers are playing regular-season football in December, so there have been no home football/basketball doubleheaders I’m aware of. There have been football/hockey doubleheaders back when the hockey Badgers played at the Dane County Coliseum, and, yes, I played at them.

Adapting the schedule of my band days, we would have had a very early Camp Randall practice (when hardly anyone was really awake), then gotten out the band sweaters and headed to the Kohl Center by 10:30 a.m. to start playing when the basketball team hit the floor a few minutes later. After the game, we would have gotten into our band uniforms and headed to Union South for the 2 p.m. concert, headed from Union South to Camp Randall, and hit the field at 2:40 p.m. for pregame. After the Fifth Quarter, off to watch the Packer game, followed by the mandatory post-Badger-game party.

Other than the party or parties, none of that is happening tomorrow, since the band has not been able to play at any Badger football or basketball game this season due to COVID.


Postgame schadenfreude, Khaki Pants edition

I am old enough to remember scores like Michigan 56, Wisconsin 0; Michigan 54, Wisconsin 0; and Michigan 62, Wisconsin 14.

So I very much enjoyed Wisconsin’s 49–11 hammering of Michigan Saturday night. In fact, I wish the Badgers had scored 70. Or triple digits.

Others did not. MLive, for instance:

Michigan’s report cards continue to regress this season.

While the Wolverines struggled against Michigan State and Indiana the previous two weeks, Saturday’s 49-11 loss against Wisconsin feels like the nadir of the season and possibly Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan.

Here are our grades for the Wolverines against the Badgers.


Joe Milton’s first two pass attempts were both intercepted, putting the Wolverines in a hole earlier. While he may earn a pass on the first one after it deflected off tight end Nick Eubank’s hands, there is no excuse for the second one. He also missed a wide-open Blake Corum on a wheel route in the second quarter that would be been a sure touchdown that could have gave Michigan some life. He finished 9 of 19 passing for just 98 yards before being pulled in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Cade McNamara was brilliant on his first drive, delivering three dime throws on a 75-yard touchdown drive, but he completed just 1 of 4 passes after that for zero yards. It appears the Wolverines might have a quarterback battle on their hands. Grade: F

Offensive line

Michigan is badly missing its starting tackles Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes. The Wolverines just aren’t getting any push up front, contributing to the team’s stagnant offense. Grade: F.

Running backs

Michigan was held to under 50 yards rushing for a second straight game and is getting no explosive plays from the group right now. Hassan Haskins, Michigan’s leading rusher heading into Saturday, received just one carry for 6 yards. True freshman Blake Corum gained just 5 yards on seven attempts, while Zach Charbbonet had three carries for 21 years, including a team-best 14-yarder. Averaging 2.5 yards a carry isn’t going to get it done. Grade: F.

Wide receivers/tight ends

The group isn’t getting enough separation down field to give the quarterbacks some help. Michigan needs someone outside of Ronnie Bell to emerge as a consistent threat. Bell was the only pass-catcher with more than two receptions Saturday. Grade: F.

Defensive line

A coach when he was a quarterback

Josh Schafer:

Mark Berg couldn’t find his football team. Literally. On the first day of the practice for the 1983 Platteville High School football team the head ball coach questioned whether his players had forgotten about practice. He walked up to the field anyway.

“Oh my gosh,” Berg said as he approached the hill near the practice field. “They slept here all night.”

The team hadn’t been late. In reality they couldn’t wait. Some of the seniors, quarterback Paul Chryst included, organized a tent sleepover on the practice field the night before the start of their season.

“It wasn’t the greatest practice because they probably weren’t sleeping all night either,” Berg told Badger247 through a chuckle recently. “But you know that was kind of the thing…Paul was very concerned about including everybody and being a good teammate. Just a real people person and he got that naturally.”

Long before Chryst was the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, he was simply Paul: The quarterback of the local high school football team. He wasn’t vastly different than anyone else that’ll suit up for a game under the lights this Friday. Sure, he threw a pretty ball, and threw it pretty far too. Sometimes, he even called plays. But he walked the halls of Platteville High School no different than anybody else and sat in the same cafeteria surrounded by brick walls and wood boarding.

After a long awaited delay, Wisconsin opens its Big Ten season this Friday night against Illinois at 7 p.m. CT. At that same time, schools around the state will also kick-off for a game under the lights. As barely anyone fills the stands at Camp Randall Stadium and Chryst calls plays for an inexperienced quarterback, parts of the game won’t be much different than his Friday night lights experiences nearly 40 years ago.
“(He was) not the quickest guy in the world,” said former Platteville defensive coordinator Dennis Kueter. “Probably mentally more with it and knew what was going on in a game more than any kid I coached there or helped coach there in 37 years. He was a lover of the game.”
Platteville played over at the stadium built by the University of Wisconsin Platteville. As Kueter puts it, the bigger stadium pushed the screaming parents and local critics a little further from the field than most high schools but people still piled into the stands. They even covered a hill in one of the endzones, including a game Chryst’s senior year that had about 6,000 people.

Chryst moved to Platteville before high school in 1979, when his father, George, became the head football coach at University of Wisconsin Platteville. With dad a head coach, Chryst had long been interested in the X’s and O’s as well.

Chryst quarterbacked the Hillmen for three seasons. Though lined up in a Wing-T offense, Berg liked to sling the ball. It worked out well because Berg’s quarterback liked to study the intricacies of the game almost as much, if not more, than his coach liked to throw the ball.

As a junior the pair had discussions about what plays or formations looked good before Chryst called plays in the huddle. So senior year, Berg loosened the leash a bit more. During his senior year, Chryst called a large portion of the plays. He’d signal over at the sideline. Berg would either nod him on or wave him off and send a different signal back.

“It was kind of neat just because he just had such a good grasp,” Berg remembered. “And he understood what we were trying to do and he understood the kids that we were playing.”

Chryst sat a large portion of his senior year with a thigh injury. During that time, after starting since his sophomore year, Chryst helped friend Jace Martens go undefeated while calling the plays alongside Berg from the sideline.

The big thing in the Hillmen’s passing offense back then was reading the safety, Berg said. Out of the Wing-T the Hillmen often ran a traditional Waggle rollout. A tight end came across on an intermediate route. If the safety ran up to cover that tight end, there’d be a running back streaking on a post or another deep route uncovered over the top of the defense.

Chryst hit a pass like this that Berg still remembers today. It was in the state championship at Camp Randall Stadium, the game after Chryst led his team over the defending state champions DeForest while completing 25-of-37 passes for 338 yards. The Hillmen clung to a touchdown lead as the end of the first half approached. They picked up chunk gains on a draw play and a quick throw to the tight end. Then the safety came up too far and Chryst hit the big one. The ball traveled about 50 yards in the air, per a Wisconsin State Journal 1983 game story, before falling into the hands of future Badgers receiver Scott Bestor.

The 57-yard touchdown provided the buffer Platteville needed as the Hillmen won the 1983 Division 4 WIAA State Championship over Mosinee. Chryst completed 14-of-25 passes for 213 yards in his final high school game.

“He could just pick it apart really quick and realize there’s a guy and he would hit him,” Berg said.

Chryst is splattered all over the area surrounding the cafeteria at Platteville high school. There’s a picture of the signal caller to honor his All-State selection. Walk further down the hall and there’s a young, hair-flowing Chryst smiling with the 1983 team. He’s in two trophy cases too. One shrine is shared with Nikki (Taggart) Colleen, who coaches the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Then there’s the state championship trophy with Chryst’s and his teammates’ names engraved forever in high school glory.

The following winter the UW Band had a concert in Platteville, at which Chryst was introduced (as if he needed to be introduced) as a new UW recruit. He played several positions at UW because two coaching staffs didn’t think he was better than the not-very-successful quarterbacks who did play. He and I were political science majors; he graduated a semester after I did, and someday I will have to find out if we were in the same classes.

Chryst joins a long line of football coaches bred by Platteville High School. Seven Platteville High School coaches have been inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, an honor Chryst has not yet received.

Oh, he will.

The school’s nickname itself, the Hillmen, comes from a head coach. Wilfred Hill worked for Platteville for 44 years and coached over 100 seasons of athletics in various sports. Early on the players were referred to as “Hill’s Men” and the name eventually stuck.

Chryst followed, of course, advanced through the coaching ranks himself. Still he always came back to Wisconsin. He even kept calling plays for the Hillmen, though indirectly.

When Chryst was the coach with the American Football League’s San Antonio Riders from 1991-92, he visited with Berg. Chryst drew a play, a “rocket screen,” on a napkin. Berg installed the play the next Monday.

“We started scoring touchdowns with that son of a gun,” Berg said of the play. “That was kind of our relationship. He would say try this, it’s really good.”

Chryst’s name still comes up at Platteville frequently, said current athletic director Mike Foley. The school preaches the “Hillmen Way,” a pursuit of excellence rooted in being respectful, responsible and ready to succeed.

There are many students that fit the mold. It just so happens to epitomize one student who teachers and coaches remember as a leader of his classmates. It just so happens that a student ended up coaching football games about 75 miles east for a team students care about quite a bit. So it just so happens that back where it all started for Chryst, his glory never ends.

“When we talk to our kids in athletics and our activities Paul Chryst’s name comes up every time,” Foley said.

Political football

The Wisconsin State Journal:

A group of 10 Midwest politicians are adding to the voices pleading for the Big Ten Conference to overturn its decision to postpone the fall football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A letter written by Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield was signed by nine fellow Republican state legislators — including Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald — and sent to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

“After hearing from many concerned students, parents and coaches, we have been encouraged to convey our support for their wishes and our responsibility to defend the students’ long-term academic and career interests,” the letter reads.

Leaders from Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania also signed the letter.

The letter states the Big Ten’s decision to push back football and other fall sports while other conferences have chosen to play has put the Big Ten and its athletes at a disadvantage, and are costing athletes future opportunities. The ACC, Big 12, and SEC are all on track to play football this fall.
“This is even more frustrating when we think of how our Big Ten athletic programs are leading the way by providing outstanding health and safety protocols. All of that unprecedented planning and teamwork was an unmitigated success, and yet somehow the conference has decided to cast it aside anyway,” the letter reads.

The Big Ten COP/C voted 11-3 early last month to not play football this fall, a move that has sparked anger and dissention inside the conference. President Donald Trump spoke with Warren last week about starting the football season “immediately,” but issues with rapid testing availability, COVID-19’s effects on the heart and other factors remain in the way.

Big Ten COP/C bylaws state 60 percent of the council had to vote to nix the fall seasons, so if a vote to restart them held the same standard, six voters would need to flip their vote. Warren released an open letter Aug. 19 stating that the decision to play fall sports “won’t be revisited.”

“The support among players, parents, coaches and fans is overwhelming. Therefore, we respectfully ask that you take their concerns to heart and work with the leadership at our universities to allow sports to continue safely this fall,” the letter reads.

UW has seen a spike in cases since students arrived, and Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Monday she may shut down campus if students in Madison don’t limit themselves to only essential activity — buying food, going to work, attending classes, getting a COVID-19 test, attending a religious observance or participating in academic activities such as conducting research or studying.

Back in June a Yahoo! Sports writer suggested that the aforementioned Warren was trying to influence the presidential election. In June it was about registering student–athletes to vote and engaging in other political activity. One wonders, though, whether Warren’s decision that obviously affects swing-states Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania is designed to get voters angry enough to not vote for Donald Trump.

(The counter to that argument is that a lot of Trump voters are already angered enough by athlete political activism, which of course always seems to be on the Democratic side, to vow they will not watch pro or college games. National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball TV ratings are not good, though ratings are good for the National Hockey League, the league with the least political activism by players. Regardless of how you feel about athletes as activists, alienating the paying customers is not a sound business strategy.)

Who else isn’t getting on to the field, by the way? Marching bands, and you know how important they are.


Read this, and On Wisconsin

One day after the birthday of retired UW Marching/Varsity Band director Mike Leckrone, we have some literary news via Facebook, which is, yes, part of “the damn Internet”:

Mike signs this week with University of Wisconsin Press. Look for his autobiography in September 2021. We might even have a special edition for bandos!

(Recruiting poster from 1970, his second year at the UW.)

Leckrone (about whom I have written a few times here) isn’t on Facebook, but his autobiography is. The title reportedly will be Moments of Happiness, and you know about that.

Empty Seat Day at Camp Randall

M.D. Kittle:

There’s nothing quite like a Badgers home football game at Camp Randall Stadium in the crisp fall air.  

But Dane County’s stringent, slow, phased-in reopening plan doesn’t allow for the kinds of mass gatherings that University of Wisconsin-Madison home games attract. It could cancel the iconic events —  or at least drastically cramp the Camp’s style. 

The so-called Forward Dane  plan, really more of an order, laid out by Public Health Madison & Dane County, includes strict metrics for businesses to reopen and for Madison life to return to anything approaching normal. Even if the the COVID-19 reduction goals are met, the plan limits outdoor mass gatherings to 250 people maximum, not including employees, until a vaccine is found for the virus. 

That’s 250 people in a stadium that seats more than 80,000 rollicking fans. Closing Camp Randall would punch a huge hole through a significant source of revenue for the University of Wisconsin and its expensive athletic department. And it would sock it to hospitality businesses in downtown Madison and beyond, businesses that have already been hit hard by the Evers administration’s two-month lockdown of the state. 

“So many businesses in the Madison area — restaurants, bars, hotels, Uber drivers, you name it — rely on these Badger home games as a piece of their revenues,” said Scott Manley, executive vice president of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. “There’s a cottage industry built around entertaining people for Badger home games. If the UW isn’t allowed to have Badger home games, those businesses are just going to be destroyed.”

UW spokesman John Lucas in an email told Empower Wisconsin that the local order “does not apply directly to units of a state agency,” but the university will “continue to consult closely with the city and county as conference and university reopening plans continue to develop.”

Responding to a follow-up email asking whether that means the university will hold home football games this fall at Camp Randall, Lucas would not definitively say. 

“We’re continuing to work closely with PHMDC and will consult with them as more information becomes available about the shape of a football season,” he said. 

In the previous email, Lucas said UW Athletics is aware of the planning phases incorporated into the Forward Dane plan from Public Health Madison & Dane County as it relates to gatherings. He said UW-Madison participates in an ongoing partnership with local and state health authorities.

He said the Big Ten Conference is evaluating plans for a return to competition, “with the health and safety of student athletes and spectators as its most important consideration.”

There’s much at stake.

The UW-Madison athletics department generates a $610 million annual statewide economic impact, according to a study by Econsult Solutions Inc., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. Badgers sports attract about 1.8 million out-of-state visitors to Wisconsin every year, the report, released last year, found. In Madison alone Badgers sports has an annual economic impact of nearly $400 million. 

“Obviously being as close as we are to Camp Randall, that has a huge affect on our fall business,” said Trevor Wilkinson, kitchen manager for Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, at 1330 Regent St., blocks away from the stadium. “We have high hopes that there will be football, but that is as out of our hands as can be at this point.” 

Mangers of downtown bars and restaurants who spoke to Empower Wisconsin Wednesday said they’re trying to keep up with local health information that is daily changing. Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, like others, is restricted to curbside service, for now, under the local health orders. Wilkinson said owners hope to bring back some dine-in service, with social-distancing limitations, next Tuesday. The loosening of the restrictions, of course, is subject to change.

The phased-in Forward Dane plan also could stifle Badgers basketball and hockey games. It limits indoor mass gatherings to 100 people maximum, not including employees — again, until there is a vaccine. Again, that could be a matter for UW and local government officials to iron out. 

Even in the best-case scenario,  pre-vaccine, restaurants, retailers and other Dane County businesses, will only be able to operate at 75 percent capacity. The plan asserts that, in the absence of a vaccine or treatment, “isolation, quarantine and, most notably, strict social or physical distancing such as public health orders like (Gov. Tony Evers’) Safer at Home” are the preferred method of containing COVID-19. While the creators of the plan acknowledge “the strictest of these prevention strategies” come at a “significant cost” to the economy and community, they are more than willing to turn the screw on an extended shutdown if COVID-19 numbers rise. 

“(W)e must not reopen too quickly or without the tools in place to minimize the speed of the virus. Doing so could threaten the progress we’ve made and have more significant health and economic consequences,” the public health policy states. 

A Dane County spokeswoman said she was seeking clarification from experts and would be in touch. She had not followed up as of publication. 

Manley said Dane County’s slow reopening plan puts businesses in peril of shutting down permanently. He said it underscores why it’s economically harmful to have local governments like Dane County create islands of anti-business public health orders.

“Businesses have to stay at 75 (percent capacity) until we have a vaccine, and we don’t know if we will have a vaccine,” the WMC official said. “For those types of businesses, particularly retailers, it’s going to be very, very difficult to remain in business.”