Wisconsin fires Paul Chryst for five games in eighth season

Wisconsin fires Paul Chryst for five games in eighth season; Jim Leonhard takes over as interim coach

Wisconsin has fired coach Paul Chryst for five games in the 2022 season, the university said Sunday. The Badgers are parting ways with Chryst after a 2-3 start to the season that included a 34-10 home loss to Illinois and former Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema in Week 5.

“After a heartfelt and genuine conversation with Coach Chryst about what is in the long-term best interests of our football program, I have concluded that now is the time for a leadership change,” sporting director Chris McIntosh said in a statement. “Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and the legacy he and his family have at the University of Wisconsin.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who is in his seventh season with the program and sixth as DC, will serve as Wisconsin’s caretaker coach for the remaining games of the season.

“I appreciate Chris McIntosh putting his trust in me to lead our team,” said Leonhard. “My focus at the moment is on our players and preparing them for our game in the North West on Saturday.”

A Madison native, Chryst played quarterback for the Badgers from 1986-88 and has spent most of the last two decades as a coach at his alma mater. In January, the university’s athletic board approved a five-year extension for Chryst through the 2026 season. If Chryst were fired without cause, Wisconsin could pay more than $16 million for his acquisition.

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The loss to the Illini marked a low point for what was normally a dependable upper-tier Big Ten program under Chryst. The Badgers, traditionally known for physically dominating the ditches, rushed just 2 yards that day. While the 24-point home loss was the last straw, it wasn’t the only worrisome result in 2022. The Badgers lost 17-14 at home to Washington State three weeks ago and were in a 52-21 loss uncompetitive after Ohio State in Week 4. Setbacks like this have happened many times at Madison, but all three shouldn’t happen in the same season — let alone a month.

The steep decline was a surprising story. Chryst never had a losing season in eight seasons in Wisconsin and led the program to double-digit wins in four campaigns. The most recent, in 2019, ended with a berth in the Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin lost to Oregon by a score of 28-27. The Badgers advanced to the Big Ten Championship Game three times under Chryst, but lost all three chances (twice to Ohio State, once to Penn State).

Chryst is 67-26 (.720) overall in Wisconsin, despite the team going 52-16 (.765) in its first five seasons and only 15-10 (.600) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He was previously a coach at Pittsburgh, where he played 19-19 in three seasons with the Panthers.

In a cruel twist of fate, Chryst’s 67 wins with the Badgers are the third-highest in school history — a win behind Bielema, who defeated Chryst in his last game with the program.