WSUM Sports Roundtable: The madmen did it, Chryst is gone. What now? 

  • Post Author
    by Sports director
  • Post Date
    Wed Oct 05 2022

By: The WSUM Sports Team

Photo Courtesy of The Athletic

The news that broke Sunday morning set the college football world on fire: Paul Chryst had been fired as the head coach of Wisconsin Badgers football. Chryst exits Wisconsin with a 67-26 record and immediately following arguably the worst loss of his tenure, a 34-10 defeat at the hands of old friend Bret Bielema and Illinois, but $11 million richer. So, where do the Badgers go from here? Who should replace him as head coach? All that and more are answered as Anthony Winker, Krissy Birdsall, Riley Jauch, Benjamin Salomon, and Jon Green discuss in this inaugural WSUM sports roundtable. 

What was your instant reaction to the news that Paul Chryst had been fired? 

Complete shock. Badgers Twitter has been a deep, dark place this season, particularly if you were Chryst or a certain Badgers quarterback wearing number 5. Yes, Saturday's loss was a bad one, probably the worst one in Chryst's UW career, but this still feels like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to me. He went 67-26 here, never had a losing season, and won 6 out of his 7 bowl games, including two New Year's Six bowls. His only bowl loss was a Rose Bowl that Wisconsin should have won against Oregon on New Year's Day 2020. He guided this team to the best season in its history, six points and 40-some yards away from the College Football Playoff, and capped it with a big Orange Bowl win in a true road environment against a good Miami team in 2017. Maybe the writing was on the wall, but I can't shake the feeling they did him extremely dirty here. -Anthony Winker

I wasn't necessarily shocked by the decision, but the timing of it. I think there was some speculation about Paul Chryst's future heading into the season, and the 24-point loss to Illinois definitely solidified his place on the hot seat. I did not expect Chris McIntosh to pull the trigger this early into the season though. Paul Chryst had a lot of success while coaching the Badgers: he never had a losing season and was a two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. Although the Badgers have started the season at 2-3, it feels as though the program prematurely gave up on Chryst. While a surprising early-season decision, it will be exciting to finally see what kind of coach Jim Leonhard can be. -Krissy Birdsall

Very similar to Anthony, I was flabbergasted. Wisconsin doesn't fire coaches midway through the season, right? That's a Nebraska thing. But clearly Athletic Director Chris McIntosh thought it was the right time and wanted to put his stamp on this program. Now that a few more days have passed since the fateful decision and things have settled down a smidge, it's safe to say that I'm very apprehensive about the future of Badgers football. Even though Wisconsin seemingly has their heir apparent in now interim-HC Jimmy Leonhard, this decision reeks of the Frank Solich and Bo Pelini firings by the aforementioned Nebraska Cornhuskers. Praying for the best, fearing the worst. -Riley Jauch

My instant reaction was “well no duh”. It was in the air this season, especially after the defrosting of the Nebraska program. The winds had already begun to change, and while the players, administration, and fanbase clearly had a deep appreciation for one of the best coaches Wisconsin has ever seen, it feels like it was time. 2019 felt like it was the tipping point, beating Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota (all ranked) in the top 20 at the time, and barely losing in the Rose Bowl to Oregon. The best was then behind the Badgers, and this was especially true after key role players on both sides of the ball and the now household name of Jonathan Taylor were drafted to the NFL that following summer. I think that his record vs quality Big Ten East opponents (0-5 vs Ohio State, 0-3 vs Penn State, 3-3 vs Michigan), the lack of offensive creativity, and a now sub par offensive line seen in the last few seasons inspired Chris McIntosh to make the change. Wisconsin seemed to be losing ground to the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and even Minnesota in the last few seasons, and rather than wait for a slow death, McIntosh injected the program with new life, or at least the possibility of it. Makes you wonder, would Barry have done it?  –Benjamin Salomon

They actually did it!? I was shocked like everyone else, it felt like a shot had been fired. Wisconsin, the team ranking near the bottom in buying out contracts, actually terminated their coach in the early midst of a season. At the end of the day, expectations were no longer being met despite the pedigree at which Chryst had built. The biggest question for the Wisconsin program and Athletic Director Chris McIntosh is, what is the expectation for Wisconsin football? Clearly it is no more being satisfied with 9-10 win seasons capped off by a who cares bowl game. Being atop the west is not enough. With the dawn of an expanded college football playoff, Wisconsin will aim to be a top 12 team year in and year out. That will become the expectation, and should be. – Jonathan Green

Who do you think is the best candidate to replace him? (if Leonhard, offer another candidate) 

Boring, I know, but Leonhard, the ultimate Badger success story and program poster child, is my pick. He was a walk-on turned three-time All-American that still somehow went undrafted, and then promptly spent a decade in the NFL. If that doesn't just scream Wisconsin football, I don't know what does. He had the opportunity this past offseason to become the defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, Matt LaFleur offered him the job, and Leonhard turned him down. One would have to think that it was for this opportunity right here. The big knock on Chryst, especially when he wasn't winning in the last couple seasons, was his bland and bleh personality, at least in the public eye. Leonhard is very clearly not that. It's time for him to prove everyone right who is saying the Badgers need a younger, fresher, more energetic voice to lead this team. He has seven games, and hopefully two more in the postseason, to show he's the right man for the job. If he can't, I think Wisconsin will make a run at his predecessor: Dave Aranda. Aranda was the architect of the defense that Leonhard currently runs at Wisconsin. He has the big-time coaching experience that other candidates like Leipold lack. For a program like Wisconsin who is not interested in any sort of rebuilding period, the big name and experience might be appealing here. As for Aranda, there probably aren't many jobs that he would leave his cozy gig at Baylor for. Wisconsin might be one of them. Plus, if there's any time to jump ship from the Big 12 to one of the eventual new Power 2, it's now. -Anthony Winker

This is Jim Leonhard's job to lose. He has shown a lot of success as a defensive coordinator since taking over in 2017, and I think he will have a lot of success as head coach. With that being said, the early decision to fire Chryst makes me wonder if the Badgers will buy into the Lance Leipold sweepstakes. He has all the parameters to be Wisconsin's next head coach: he's a homegrown coach from Jefferson, Wisconsin, played at UW-Whitewater and was a graduate assistant for the Badgers from 1991-1993. With his success as head coach at Buffalo and now Kansas, he would be the only guy I could see taking the spot over Leonhard. -Krissy Birdsall

Make it three votes for Leonhard. He's an extremely talented young coach with about the strongest Wisconsin ties and loyalty you could ask for. What more could you want? He has at least seven games to prove that my fears about the direction of this program are completely unfounded. Here's to hoping he rights the ship and does just that. However, if the ship continues to sink, let's take a trip over to Wazzu and bring in the man who dealt the Badgers their first loss of the season, Jake Dickert. The Oconto native and UW-Stevens Point alum has already had success in only 11 games at the helm for the Cougars, with wins over Wisconsin and Cal and a near loss to 15th ranked Oregon. He's also only 39 years-old and would bring his innovative “Coug Raid” offense to UW, possibly a much needed breath of fresh air versus Wisconsin's typical pro-style attack. He doesn't appear on's list of possible candidates, but I'd love to see his name in the mix. -Riley Jauch

A bit of recency bias after their strong performance against Georgia, but I am a big fan of Sean Lewis at Kent State. One of the youngest coaches in the FBS at 36, Lewis has not taken the easy way out when it comes to non-conference schedules. Lewis led the team into formidable opponents such as Penn State (11), Auburn (8), Wisconsin (8), Texas A&M (6), Iowa (5), Washington (18) Oklahoma (6), and Georgia (1) since being hired in 2018. While he hasn't been able to eke out a win, he has produced the best stretch of success (and recruitment, something the Badgers need more than a head coach) at Kent State in the last 50+ years. I love Lewis' offense-heavy system and I think that it would be a great change of pace for Wisconsin in what is likely the most uncertain time in the program's recent history. I'm sure the defensive quality will persist in the program, but what has always hurt Wisconsin in the past has been their lack of creativity and playmakers on offense outside of running back and the offensive line. Plus, since no coach seems to be able to not have a connection to the program, Lewis played as a tight end with the Badgers in ‘06 and ‘07. –Benjamin Salomon

With lots of Jim Leohanrd predictions here, I will go the less homer route and say the next one down the list: Lance Leipold of the Kansas Jayhawks. Currently leading his team to 5-0, Leipold is destined for bigger head coaching opportunities from around the country. While there is still much season left to be played, Kansas has taken college football by storm this year, currently with the 16th-ranked scoring offense. However, it is fair to question whether Leipold can keep this up. If he does, Wisconsin needs to give him an opportunity, and bring the Wisconsin native home, which is something the Badgers often do. Jim Leohnard seems poised to be a great coach, but he comes from under Paul Chryst. By firing Chryst when they did, Wisconsin is giving Leohnard a small opportunity, but they are also getting out ahead of the coaching search, knowing they will have to compete with Nebraska. If Wisconsin really wants a change, they need to look outside their own program and light a spark. – Jonathan Green

Get crazy. Pick one semi-realistic, outside-the-box candidate who you think would do a good job here, but has no chance of being hired. 

Does Wisconsin pick now as the time for a stark philosophical shift? If McIntosh has the kahunas for that on top of already making this pretty controversial decision, Sean Lewis, the current head coach at Kent State, should get a look. Considering the last segment, he is up there on a couple of our writers' lists. He checks the Wisconsin ties box, he played tight end and returned kicks here from 2006-2007. He has engineered a program turnaround of sorts since he took over at Kent State, and his offense has been surprisingly good so far this season. Let's just say that some longtime Badgers fans' heads might explode if he brought his offense to the Camp. There are plenty of better candidates out there in my opinion (Urban Meyer is NOT one of those candidates), but this would fit the outside-the-box criteria to me. For what it's worth, Vegas has him at 8-1. Do with that what you will. -Anthony Winker

There has been a lot of speculation that Matt Rhule will leave the NFL and rejoin NCAA football as a head coach, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was on Wisconsin's radar. Rhule was successful at Baylor before he moved on to the NFL: in two years, he took a team that was 1-11 to a team that went 11-3 and won a Big 12 Championship. Even though his success didn't pan out to the professional level, he has the skills to turn around collegiate programs. While it is likely Rhule may be out of the NFL soon, I don't see him coming to Wisconsin for his collegiate return. -Krissy Birdsall

If we're going outside the box, let's go way outside the box. I'm talking “pull Tony Dungy out of retirement” outside of the box. Now, hear me out, he's a Hall of Fame NFL coach with a Super Bowl ring in his back pocket. So he's clearly got the accolades. Sure he's been out of the game for a while but I'm sure he could get himself back in the swing of things. He even started his career in 1980 with the despicable Golden Gophers of Minnesota, so he at least has some familiarity with the Big Ten of old. If the Badgers can't get their hands on a shiny new young coach, why not go even more old school? It would be quite the twist and not even close to what Wisconsin fans would want, but hey, that'd be pretty darn funny right? -Riley Jauch

GEAX BADGERS!!!!!! I would love Chris McIntosh and whoever is in charge of making the call on the next Wisconsin head coach to take a good long look at Ed Orgeron. If you can see him through the cigar smoke, you might see the coach of one of the best college football teams ever (2019 LSU), who coached with the likes of Pete Carrol (my second choice for this segment), Lane Kiffin, and Les Miles, and who can do something that the ENTIRETY of the Wisconsin program can't seem to do… recruit. Orgeron served the role of recruiting coordinator at USC and Tennessee under Carrol and Kiffin, and even played himself as a recruiter in The Blind Side. Recruiting is part of why the Badgers have been falling behind and what I think is one of the largest factors in the lack of “success” the program has had in recent years, so bringing in big O would likely flip that on its head. Plus, I want to hear him pronounce Wisconsin and city names. –Benjamin Salomon

Kliff Kingsbury. The Arizona Cardinals have had consecutive seasons of faltering at the finish line. If that occurs again, Arizona may want to go a different route at head coach. Kingsbury would be unlike anything Wisconsin has had at the helm. He would most likely employ his air raid spread offense that has seen the likes of Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes in the college level. If Wisconsin really wanted to shake things up, someone like Kingsbury would accomplish just that. Would the days of a pro style, run first offense come to an end at Wisconsin? Most likely not. – Jonathan Green

How many more games does Wisconsin win the rest of the season? 

I predicted 10-2 and a Big Ten West winning season for Wisconsin at the start of the year. While that pick is already out the window, part two of my prediction is still alive and sort of well. Maybe this is the blind and hopeless optimism in me, which for people that know me is a real stark change from my normal mentality, but I think Wisconsin goes 6-1, takes the Axe back and wins the West at 8-4. The schedule lines up much more favorably for the Badgers than it first looked at the start of the year, albeit that was before the struggles that Wisconsin themselves had. What once looked like really difficult road tests at Iowa (horrible offense), Michigan State (horrible defense), and Nebraska (horrible) at the start of the year don't look so challenging anymore. Current favorite Minnesota just lost to Purdue in a game that neither team looked too keen on winning, and some injury questions are starting to creep in for a Golden Gophers team and program that also just hasn't proven they can win the big game yet. The West remains wide open. Wisconsin probably drops one in there somewhere, but it won't be the Axe game. Leonhard and the incumbents from last season won't let that happen. This team will rally around Jim Leonhard, play their hearts out for Chryst, and put this team back in the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2019. -Anthony Winker

Wisconsin has a good shot of winning the rest of their games this season. At the very least, the Badgers should be competitive against the teams on the rest of their schedule. Most of the teams on the remainder of the schedule are going through their own problems: Northwestern lost two games at home to Miami Ohio and Southern Illinois (an FCS school), Michigan State lost three straight, Iowa has struggled offensively all year, and Nebraska fired their HC Scott Frost. With that being said, while I am hopeful Wisconsin will win out, I think they'll win five of the final seven games, but finish the year with a winning record at 7-5 and keep the Bowl streak alive. –Krissy Birdsall

Even though I'm typically a glass-half-full kinda guy when it comes to my sports teams, I'm going to embrace my role as pessimist on this panel. While I admit that both Anthony and Krissy are correct in saying that every game is winnable, it's also fair to point out that every game is very losable too. I think the Badgers drop four out of their next five as the raw emotions from Chryst's firing still weigh heavily on the players, scraping out a win over Maryland a few weeks from now and losing the Heartland Trophy to the Hawkeyes. That being said I do believe the team pulls together for the final stretch, continuing their reign of terror over Nebraska and taking back the Axe in front of a raucous Camp Randall crowd. They'll finish 5-7, thwarting their bid at a 21st consecutive bowl game. But, given the turmoil of this season, I would take that. -Riley Jauch

The Badgers were 2-3 when they fired Chryst. The one question that I think determines how the team does for the rest of the season is do they rally? Does the team rally around the memory of Chryst? Do they rally around interim head coach Jim Leonhard? Do they rally around each other and leave it all out on the field this season? I think the answer is yes to at least ⅔ of those questions, although I can't say which ones for certain. With that being said, there are some sneaky opponents this season. Northwestern has a 3-4 record vs Wisconsin over the last 7 years, Purdue beat Minnesota and should have beaten Penn State, Maryland looked the better team vs Michigan, Iowa's defense looks like it could shut Wisconsin out, and Minnesota was ranked going into this week for a reason. I honestly think the Badgers will be underdogs going into 4 of their remaining 7 games.  Combine some solid opponents with the adjustments, shock, and growing pains of getting a new head coach mid-season, and I think 5-7 is the most likely record for the Badgers. However, I think the ups and downs in performance during the time Chryst was coach this year continue in his absence. If you tell me they finish with a 3-9, or 7-5 record I'd believe you. –Benjamin Salomon

It is bleak. The only two wins on the season have been against some of the worst competition in the country with Illinois State and New Mexico State. Wisconsin has lost each game they have played against a power five school this year. That will not change much. I have the Badgers finishing off the year with only two wins, going 2-5 down the final stretch, which would be a 4-8 record. Yes, I know I am the Scrooge of this prediction, but this dark future may very well transpire. Northwestern and Nebraska would be the two most likelys for Wisconsin in the remaining schedule. The team has not looked engaged in either of those 3 losses, particularly the offense. It will be interesting to see how they respond with the coaching turnaround, but it may crumble them further. While many will sing the praises of Leonhard and the Badgers if they win at Northwestern, do not take that as a sign of things to come, and remember who the opponent is. It is still the same group of players that have largely underperformed and were recruited by Chryst.  – Jonathan Green