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Paul Chryst fired: Who are the Badgers’ top coaching candidates?
Jim Leonhard has been an assistant at Wisconsin since 2016, and will serve as the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of the 2022 season. (Credit Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Paul Chryst fired: Who are the Badgers’ top coaching candidates?

MADISON, Wis. (BVM) – On Sunday, the Wisconsin Badgers fired eighth-year head coach Paul Chryst. The termination came following the Badgers’ 34-10 loss to Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium, which was the team’s second consecutive blowout loss after falling 52-21 to Ohio State the weekend prior.

Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh also announced that Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard would take over as interim head coach. 

The move comes as a surprise to many, but the writing may have been on the wall for Chryst following the Illinois loss. The Badgers are just 2-3 on the season, suffering another home defeat in a non-conference game in September to Washington State. A blowout against a far superior team in Ohio State wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but the team showed little fight in an embarrassing loss for the program.

However, the ultimate embarrassment came at home on Saturday against Bret Bielema’s Fighting Illini, who came in and thoroughly dominated Wisconsin at its own game. Ironically, Bielema – the Badgers’ head coach from 2006 to 2012 who helped lead the program to three Big Ten championships – will now finish one win ahead of Chryst on Wisconsin’s all-time head-coaching wins list.

The downturn of the Wisconsin program and Chryst’s tenure with the Badgers began before this season, however. Chryst, a former Badgers player in the 1980s, returned to his alma mater as a tight ends coach under Barry Alvarez in 2002, and served as the team’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11. 

Chryst left for the head-coaching job at Pitt in 2012, but was hired by Wisconsin in 2015 following Gary Andersen’s departure. Chryst led the Badgers to double-digit wins in his first three seasons at the helm, earning wins in the Cotton Bowl in 2016 and the Orange Bowl in 2017 to conclude an impressive 13-1 season.

A down year in 2018 was followed by a Rose Bowl appearance in 2019. But the real downfall began in the unique, Covid-marred 2020 season in which the Badgers went just 4-3. They began the 2021 season 1-3 before rallying to finish 9-4, but with some of the team’s talent not showing development or improvement, the team’s 2-3 start this fall was the final straw.

Now, Leonhard will take over as the team’s interim head coach as the Badgers try to right the ship. Who are the top head-coaching candidates the Badgers might look at for the 2023 season?