Matt Stevens, Big Sports Radio & IlliniGuys Staff Writer
October 2, 2022
MADISON, Wis. --- Paul Chryst has been terminated in the middle of his eighth season as head football coach at the University of Wisconsin.
ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg was the first to report the news via multiple anonymous sources. Not an hour after Rittenberg’s report was published, Wisconsin athletics director Chris McIntosh officially confirmed Chryst’s firing just 24 hours after the Badgers suffered a 34-10 home loss
to Illinois, a program in the second season of a rebuilding project under former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.
“I've been around this game for a long time, and I think it's one of the things you respect about the game. Do you want to be better? Absolutely. And you just want to focus on the things that you can do to help move the needle, help our players and assistant coaches,” Chryst said Saturday following the largest margin of defeat to Illinois since 1988. “We knew going in — and been fortunate to be around and having coached a long time — it's never easy. So I didn't think it's going to be easy, and yet I believe in this group and I like this group. I appreciate where they're coming from and how they go about it. I look forward to each day I get to be with them. We get to be together again, and we've got to roll up our sleeves and continue to go to work.”
McIntosh announced Wisconsin is promoting defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard to serve as interim coach for the remainder of this season.
"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," McIntosh said in a university release. "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.”
While it may be assumed to be happening now, the university release has no mention of a national search for Chryst’s replacement being started immediately and this will be the first major coaching hire of McIntosh’s tenure as athletics director since he was named the successor to Barry Alvarez on June 2, 2021.
Leonhard is in his seventh season on Wisconsin's coaching staff and is in the middle of his sixth year as the defensive coordinator at his alma mater. During that time, he has overseen one of the best units in college football as the Badger defense led the country in total yards allowed and ranked third nationally in scoring defense over the last five seasons.
As a player at Wisconsin, Leonhard was a three-time All-American as a safety for Wisconsin while tying the school record with 21 career interceptions. He also broke the Big Ten Conference record with 1,347 career punt return yards.
“I appreciate Chris McIntosh placing his trust in me to lead our team," Leonhard’s statement reads in the university release. "My focus right now is on our players and moving forward with preparing them for our game on Saturday at Northwestern. I owe a lot to Coach Chryst. Everyone in our program does. He gave me my first coaching job, and for that I am forever grateful. As a Badger, I thank him for his impact on our football program and our players over many years.”
Chryst, a former Wisconsin quarterback and native of Madison, Wis., led Wisconsin to a 67-26 record, including a 43-18 mark in Big Ten Conference play during is seven-plus years as the Badgers head coach that included three Big Ten Western Division titles, two Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and a 6-1 mark in bowl games including back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl wins in the 2017 Cotton Bowl and 2018 Orange Bowl.
Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2) will play this Saturday (2:30 p.m. CST, BTN) at Northwestern.