Wisconsin football begins life after Paul Chryst, the third winningest coach in program history, with a visit to Northwestern on Saturday. It’s NU’s homecoming game, and they’ll honor the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Gator Bowl team, a squad that ended the school’s 63 year bowl game victory drought. It’s also the first game in charge for Jim Leonhard, who has been promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald opened his weekly presser on Monday by mentioning his very close relationship with Chryst and how he wishes him the best after his firing.
Pat Fitzgerald on Paul Chryst:
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 3, 2022
“I was shocked, and I’ll leave it at that,” he said. Our focus has gotta be on us. We’ve gotta capitalize on opportunities that we have.” Wisconsin football comes into this clash heavily favored.
Saturday, Oct. 8
2:30 p.m. CT – Wisconsin vs. Northwestern (WGN Radio AM-720; Big Ten Network)
Chryst now finishes with a 62-27 (a 70% winning percentage, second highest in Wisconsin football history), 6-1 in bowl games (top bowl winning % in Wisconsin history, including three New Year’s Six wins), four Big Ten West division titles in seven seasons and 3rd in wins (1 game behind Bret Bielema, his opponent for his very last game).
He was also a very well-liked and respected coach, both in and outside of his locker room.
Fitzgerald spoke of Chryst’s legacy: “As a peer, someone that has had great respect for that program, we tipped our hat to him.”
Said he consistently appreciated Chryst’s perspective on football and player safety, calling him “a voice of reason” and “a great person to be around.”
Fitz then added: “I’m sure he’ll be heavily sought after. He’s a hell of a coach.”
According to school officials, Chryst was due $20 million (and change) for his buyout. Instead the two parties agreed to a exit payment of $11 million, which is to be paid in full no later than Feb. 1, 2023. It will be funded in full by the UW Foundation.
While Wisconsin football did get off to a 2-3 start this season, why did Athletic Director Chris McIntosh decide to do this?
And why in mid-season?
There had been no reports of friction between the coach and administration. Also, there had been no previous reports that either side was unhappy with the situation.
So what gives? How did this happen? Does McIntosh have someone who he thinks is the next Saban or Dabo already lined up? Does he expect his program to be at the Ohio State level? Or higher even? Was it Chryst who actually wanted out? Was this a quasi-resignation or even something close to a genuine “mutual parting of ways” (if such a thing actually exists in the real world)?
How/why did Chryst leave half his money on the table? Why would anyone who was fired, totally out of the blue, do something like that?
The fact that the final sum is close to half, makes it seem like an amount that bartered down. (“You know, we’ll split the difference.”)
Were there some legal/recruitment issues? Something unsavory and scandalous going on?
Chryst seems like the last guy you’d ever have to worry about with that sort of thing, but hey, you never know.
We have a lot of questions, and it’s going to be awhile, if ever, until we get answers. None of this passes the smell test. Yes, Wisconsin football was 15-10 in their last 25, 9-8 in the league over their last 17 in conference, but is that grounds for dismissal? Maybe at Alabama, and nowhere else.
“An incredibly high level of respect between our two programs and institutions,” Fitzgerald said of the Northwestern-Wisconsin rivalry, one that encompasses the two Big Ten schools that are closest to each other.
So will Wisconsin football get the cliched “new coach bounce?” Is that a thing? We asked Fitz about whether or not he believes in that. “I hope not,” he responded with a smile.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.