WSUM’s Dan Labosky and Patrick Sexton were fortunate enough to have UW Head Football Coach Paul Chryst on the show for an interview in November on Beyond the Badgers. Coach Chryst covered everything from his own personal coaching journey, the characteristics of his team and many of its players, and what it means to be a Badger.
Sexton- What were your experiences like coaching in the Canadian Football League in both Ottawa and Saskatchewan? Was there anything specific that you took away from your time there?
Chryst- I loved the time we had up in Canada. The guy that had a large impact on my career had coached a number of years up in Canada and won a number of Grey Cups, the super bowl of Canada. I had some interest in going up there and my first opportunity came in Ottawa. Ottawa is a beautiful city and there was nothing better than to have a beavertail on the Rideau St. Lawrence Canal when it freezes over. My wife and I had our first-born, Katie, who was young at the time with us. I spent 2 years in Ottawa before I moved on to Saskatchewan. Funny thing is that both team nicknames were the Roughriders. I loved the CFL. It’s a really fun league and I loved the time I had up there.
Sexton- Jonathan Taylor has had an incredible start to the season, especially when you consider the fact that he is a true freshman. What did you see in him that led you to give him the responsibility of being the starting running back at just 18 years old?
Chryst- Well, we were really excited when we were recruiting him and when he decided to come to Wisconsin. As a coach you never know exactly when guys are going to contribute, and really from the moment he got here he did some really good things. Most of all I think he remained humble and kept that hunger to continue to get better. He earned the right to be the starter in fall camp from consistently doing things well. Then we were able to see some things that people are seeing in that he has the ability to be special. He was essentially the one that determined he was going to be the starter. In fall camp, we were in a scrimmage and he was going with the second offense against the first defense and he took a run 70 yards. A little bit later he was working with the ones and we threw a little screen pass and he started going and it ended up being another 70 yard touchdown. During the run our QB Alex Hornibrook turned to me and said “When is he going to be the starter?” And I said, “I think he just did.” He’s the one that kind of named himself the starter just based off the way he played.
Labosky- As a head coach, you have made a bowl game every year and you are 2-0 in bowl games here at Wisconsin. What does it mean to the program to get to bowl games and win them?
Chryst- First off, I didn’t do any of that, the players did. I just got to be around them. To me, the significance of bowl games is that you have to earn the right to go to them. You have to have a good enough season to earn the right to play another game and I’ve been really fortunate in the teams that I have coached, because you’re around them all the time and you get to really like being with them. It also means that you get to extend your season, so you get to be with that team longer. I think that anytime you can earn something on the field, that means something. Once you actually go to the bowl, everyone is competitive and you want to do your best. To win a bowl game, the first thing that comes out is that every team I’ve ever been a part of, the underclassmen want to do it for the seniors. There is nothing better than seeing a senior class finish their career with a win in a bowl game. I think that’s what drives it. I’ve been fortunate to be around some really good teams, made up of talented players, and I think that’s what I love about the bowl, you can extend your season. Certainly, for the program, the bowl games are a measuring stick, that gives you a chance to have extra practice, so even the guys that aren’t playing have another month of football and you can have a lot of development there.
Sexton- Starting linebacker Jack Cichy was lost for the season due to an injury in fall camp, yet every week you see him on the sidelines with his headset on and trying to contribute as best he can. Of course he can’t have a direct impact on the game, but what impact has he had on his teammates?
Chryst- He’s had a great impact. Guys know how much he cares about this team and how much he cares about the guys. As you guys know, when you’re on a team, you want to find any way to contribute to that team. It certainly isn’t the way Cich [Cichy] pictured it in the summertime but he’s going to find a way to help this team and that you have to appreciate a tonne. Other guys have done that as well; Chikwe Obasih was hurt for a while. He’s one of our senior defensive linemen and he did the same thing. As guys get injured, they still try to find ways to help this group because they care about the team and that’s what makes you feel really appreciative to be around guys like that.
Labosky- Being from here, having played here, and now having coached here. What does it mean to you to be a Badger?
Chryst- You feel appreciative of it every time. Whether it was when I first came as a player or whenever, you just want to do your best. I grew up in Madison and went to high school about an hour and a half from here in Platteville, so you not only wanted to represent the university the right way, but you wanted to represent the state, and your hometown the right way as well. I was lucky enough to come back as an assistant coach and you wanted to do the same thing. You do put a little pressure on yourself to make sure that the place is different because you were there. I’ve always felt very fortunate to be here whether it was as a player, assistant coach, or now as a head coach. You just want to do things the right way and you want people to be proud of what guys are doing and what we’re doing as a program. I just feel really lucky to be here.
Sexton- Is the ultimate goal of a coach to help players move on to the next level, regardless of how long they’re a part of your program?
Chryst- It certainly is. I think it’s a byproduct, and it’s something you’re really proud of. There’s not one coach that can make a player get there, but you know you can help them. I think the big picture of our job is to make sure that the players who come into the program are ready and confident for the next chapter in their life when they leave. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a lot of guys, from what they’ve done here, have put themselves in positions to get the chance to play in the NFL, and that makes you feel glad because you know you’ve helped them achieve a goal and a dream. It’s the player, with the help of all the coaches, on the field coaching, strength coaching. All the people around play a role in helping the players feel ready and confident for when they move on to the next chapter of their life. I think we’ll always have guys that will have that next chapter where they’re still playing when they move on. If that’s the case, you want them to know that they accomplished everything they could and that they became the best player they could by being a part of this program, and that you feel good about.
Labosky- You worked with great QB’s like Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson while you were here as an Offensive Coordinator. Tolzien had a great arm and Wilson could make things happen with his legs. Do you change your offensive style depending on the skill set of your QB?
Chryst- Yeah, obviously the quarterback is an important position, I think you have to have a foundation and a system so that guys can grow and develop in it, but I think you always have to change and adjust to all the players you have. Really, what drives it a lot is knowing what your offensive line capable of doing and then it is what kind of skill players do you have, and what are their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously the quarterback is a big part of it, but I think you have to do that with all of your players. I’ll go back what I said before, you have to have a foundation, you have to have a system, and it has to be flexible enough so that it can play to the strengths of the group that you have at that moment. It’s kind of fun, you know, like right now we have a young group of receivers and a really young running back so that will continue to evolve as they evolve. That’s why I think its really the coaches knowing how you can help the players continue to grow and develop, but you have to play to their strengths and that’s what I think is the fun challenge. It’s not necessarily year-to-year change, sometimes it’s beginning of the season to the end of the season. It can always change as they continue to grow.
Sexton- You mentioned the young receivers and the young running back, but you also have a young QB in redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook. How have you seen him develop over the past 2 seasons?
Chryst- I think he’s grown quite a bit. Alex is a tremendous worker and he loves all the things that you don’t see on the field. As a coach, you appreciate that, but the other players appreciate that as well. They know that he is doing all that he can to be the best quarterback for the team that he can be. I think he has done a lot of good things to help us be where we’re at, and yet he’s the first guy that knows there are areas where he can continue to grow and improve. As long as he keeps that approach I think he’ll continue to get better. He’s fun to be around and you appreciate all he’s done. He’s done a lot of really good things and yet I think he can continue to get better. That’s kind of the fun part.
Beyond the Badgers airs on WSUM every Tuesday from 9-10 a.m.