Wisconsin fires football coach Paul Chryst, names defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard interim coach

Wisconsin fired football coach Paul Chryst on Sunday after the team started 3-2.

Sporting director Chris McIntosh said in a news conference Sunday night he met with Chryst in the morning and had an extensive discussion with him, which led to the decision to make a change.

“It’s a big decision and it has repercussions that I haven’t missed, but I’m really, really grateful to have been able to work side-by-side with Coach Chryst through some incredibly exciting, positive moments and some difficult ones like today,” said McIntosh said.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will serve as interim coach.

McIntosh, Chryst and Leonhard met with players Sunday night to update them on the change.

“It’s my job to always keep our program’s position in mind,” McIntosh said. “We’ve just reached a point where today was the right time for me to make this decision. I don’t take this lightly; it’s an incredibly tough day for all of us. But I’m incredibly optimistic that today is the first day of the future of this program.”

The decision to fire Chryst came a day after Wisconsin lost 34-10 to Illinois, coached by former Badgers coach Bret Bielema. Wisconsin also lost to Ohio State 52-21 on September 24, one of their worst losses in recent memory, and lost 17-14 at home to Washington State on September 10 as a heavy favorite.

Chryst, 56, who was born in Madison, finished 67-26 in more than seven seasons at Wisconsin, his alma mater. In four of his first five seasons with the Badgers, he won at least 10 games and won a Cotton Bowl, an Orange Bowl, and three Big Ten West Division titles. But the program fell 4-3 as of 2020 before slowly kicking off the 2021 season in which the Badgers finished 9-4.

Nevertheless, the move on Sunday came as a surprise.

“Anyone who wanted Coach Chryst gone is not a part of this team,” said star running back Braelon Allen tweeted.

According to Chryst’s contract, Wisconsin will owe him $16.4 million if he’s fired without cause, although McIntosh said the acquisition will be “significantly less than reported numbers” and that details will be announced soon. The Wisconsin Athletic Board approved the extension of Chryst’s five-year contract through the 2026 season in January.

Leonhard, 39, a three-time All-America defenseman at the school who went on to play ten seasons in the NFL, returned to Wisconsin in 2016 as an assistant and assumed the role of defense coordinator the following year. He has long been considered a potential successor to Chryst and is expected to be a candidate for permanent employment.

McIntosh said he owed it to the program to conduct a full coaching search “when the time is right,” but he was full of praise for Leonhard and what he means to the program.

“The aptitude that Jim brings to this program, his competitiveness, his work ethic, these are all gimmicks. His ability to lead and his ability to achieve, we’ve been fortunate to have Jimmy on the team, that we’re in a position where we can trust that level of responsibility and leadership,” said McIntosh.

Leonhard said in the press conference that the day was “very emotional,” and credited Chryst with hiring him when he had “zero coaching experience,” mentoring him as a coach and reaffirming his confidence even after Sunday’s move.

Leonhard described the interim job as “a dream born out of a nightmare”. He added that addressing players’ emotions is his immediate priority.

“So the majority of those players, a key factor in getting into Wisconsin, was Coach Chryst [they were] very shocked by the news,” said Leonhard. “We understand that our five-game résumé this year is not what we want. We hadn’t exhausted our abilities.”

Wisconsin visits the Northwest this week. Leonhard said he has not yet determined whether he will continue to call the defense or hand off responsibility to another assistant.

But he said he’s ready to help Wisconsin make progress.

“This place means a lot to me. I became who I am at the University of Wisconsin and in this football program,” he said. “I feel like I can take this opportunity and help this place grow. That’s why I came back a few years ago and didn’t leave.”

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34714751/wisconsin-fires-football-coach-paul-chryst-sources-say Wisconsin fires football coach Paul Chryst, names defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard interim coach

Emma Bowman

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