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Wisconsin Football: The Legacy of Former Badgers HC Paul Chryst



Former Wisconsin Football head coach Paul Chryst
Oct 1, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As the dog days of summer conditioning for the 2023 Wisconsin football program are quickly approaching and we are still over two full months from the season kickoff, I would be remised if I did not take a moment to reflect on what was an exciting time in Wisconsin football. Something I wish we should have spent more time on at the end of the Paul Chryst era. In life, it’s common to want to swerve around the bumps in the road and just keep moving along. If you don’t take a second to appreciate the journey, aren’t you missing the little moments of joy along the way?

Before the end of former Head Coach Paul Chrysts’ tenure, it had been 33 years since Wisconsin football fired a coach – the last was Don Morton in 1988. 

As the Wisconsin football program reorganizes the football operations, builds out the recruiting department, and a myriad of philosophy changes, many fans haven’t taken a moment to reflect. Before we officially begin that new era in Wisconsin football on September 2nd vs. the Buffalo Bulls — let’s take a moment to pay homage to the past before we set our sights on the future.

Former Wisconsin Football Head Coach Paul Chryst, The Human

As diehard fans, many of us, myself especially, are guilty of being laser-focused on the wins and losses. That’s what fans do – we’re fanatics! We are passionate people centered around a centralized goal. Because of this, we can forget that these coaches, players, and families are indeed people and not robots. Embarrassingly, I fall into that camp more than I like to admit.

The football world comprises wonderfully made, kind, and compassionate humans from all walks of life. What makes this game so beautiful is it doesn’t matter where you came from or how much money you have — what matters is the people. They get as upset as we do and are just as emotionally invested.

They have families and friends that share in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The Chryst family is no exception. Paul and his wife Robin, daughters Katy and JoJo, and son Danny were apart of our community; they went to school with us, worked with us, cheered on the Badgers, and represented the state of Wisconsin with grace and humility.

Paul Chryst is not only a native Wisconsinite but a Madison man. Born in Madison in 1965, he spent three decades of his life in Wisconsin. After spending most of his formative years in Madison, he and his family relocated to Platteville. His father, George, took the head football coaching job at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 1979.

As the starting quarterback for the Platteville Hillmen, Chryst led his team to back-to-back Southern Eight Conference titles in 1982 and 1983, and won the Wisconsin state championship in 1983. After winning the Wisconsin state title, he came to UW, became a three-time letter winner as a quarterback and tight end, and earned his journalism degree in 1988.

The Coaching Journey

Having played at Wisconsin in the late ’80s, Chryst never had the opportunity to suit up for Barry Alvarez. However, that didn’t stop the legendary coach from luring him home in 2002.

After bouncing around the World Football League (NFL Europe), the Canadian Football League (CFL), and even a quick stop in the college ranks, Coach Chryst was tabbed to lead the tight ends room at Wisconsin. Serving as the tight ends coach for the 2002 season, it was clear that Coach Chryst had the offensive skill set to call the entire offense and not just his position group.

He did so well in that one year that he earned an offensive coordinator position for Oregon State. After leading the Beavers to impressive statistical outputs, including averaging 463 yards of total offense (10th nationally) and 328.1 passing yards per game (6th nationally), it was time for Coach Chryst to come home — again.

A Homecoming of Sorts

In 2005, the Wisconsin native returned to be a co-offensive coordinator. After Barry Alvarez retired, Coach Chryst was promoted to offensive coordinator by new Head Coach Bret Bielema. It’s fair to wonder if that was one of Bielema’s easiest choices during his stint here. 

During his first year, the 2005 Badgers offense averaged 34.3 points per game. On top of that, UW scored 446 points that season – a school record at the time. With excellent production comes great projections, and that was evident in the subsequent NFL drafts. From 2005 – 2011 the Wisconsin football program produced 19 offensive players drafted into the NFL– including nine pass catchers. That’s not too bad for a vaunted pro-style, ground-and-pound outfit.

In 2011, his last season as offensive coordinator for the Badgers, Coach Chryst coordinated an offense that averaged 44.1 points per game and 618 points — setting a new school record. 

The Long Awaited Opportunity to Coach the Wisconsin Football Program

In 2015, former Athletic Director and legendary football coach Barry Alvarez could again hire Coach Chryst for a football position — this time for the head football coach.

Paul Chryst had done it. The Wisconsin man who had traveled around various leagues and campuses soaking up experience was returning home. From 2015 to 2022, he led Wisconsin to an impressive 67–26 record, 43–18 in Big Ten play and 6–1 in bowl games.

As the head coach for UW, Coach Chryst was named back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2017. Under his leadership, the Badgers produced 18 players named to All-American team honors, including 13 first-team All-Americans. Two Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipients, 23 first-team All-Big Ten players, and hundreds of players named to Academic All-American lists. 

Former Wisconsin Football Head Coach Paul Chryst’s Legacy

It is human nature in a results-oriented business to focus so intently on the game outcomes and the wins and losses on the recruiting trail. Those are very important and the lifeblood of a healthy football program.

If we are being fair, yes, under Coach Chryst, the team did fall short sometimes, sometimes in big moments. Coach Chryst should have hired a recruiting department and built the needed infrastructure. Those seem obvious, but in the moment, I believe that Coach Chryst was doing what he thought was right.

I will not pretend I know more than someone who has spent their entire adult life in this career. Sure, I question decisions. However, I remind myself that some of these coaches have forgotten more football information than I have ever known.

As true fans, we cannot allow these frustrating moments to take away from the joy that Coach Chryst brought us. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Badgers fans across the globe that have enjoyed so much happiness because of Chryst.

To Paul Chryst — With Love

As Coach Chryst and his family head to Texas, what better time than now to send out love and gratitude for all he has done for Wisconsin football. 

I will never be able to document every smile he brought to myself and Badger Nation. I wouldn’t trade this ride for anything. From the 2011 season with the North Carolina State grad transfer Russell Wilson to watching Jonathan Taylor, who would win back-to-back Doak Walker awards, it sure was awesome.

Bludgeoning Minnesota 31-0 to finish the 2017 season 12-0, our first undefeated regular season since 1912. Beating Purdue like their World’s Largest Drum every year. Rallying back to beat the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl, at their house, in front of their fans. Yeah, Paul, “turnover chain my f***ing a**!”.

Final Thoughts

There were so many incredible moments that brought us joy and only a few that brought us heartache. But as the wise philosopher Dolly Parton once said, “you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain”. I will be forever grateful for those rainbows and all the memories made.

We can be equally excited for the next chapter in Wisconsin football while being damn proud of our past. The man shared more than half of his life with Wisconsin and is a Badger through and through. He spent countless hours with these young men at the expense of his immediate family. He did that for us, Badger Nation. I would keep it short and sweet if I could say just one thing to Paul Chryst and his family.

I would simply say – thank you.

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Ryan Eilers covers the Wisconsin Badgers football and wrestling programs for and has had his work published on Bleacher Report. He also makes up 1/4 of the BadgerNotes After Dark podcast crew.