Badgers fire Paul Chryst after 2-3 start, name Jim Leonhard interim head coach

MADISON, Wis. — Paul Chryst’s time as head coach is up. The Badgers parted ways with Chryst on Sunday, UW Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh announced.

Chryst joined Wisconsin from Pittsburgh before the 2015 season and led the Badgers to seven straight bowl game appearances, six of them resulting in wins. He won the Big Ten West three times, but could never do enough to win a Big Ten Championship.

“After a heartfelt and authentic conversation with Coach Chryst about what is in the long-term best interest of our football program, I have concluded that now is the time for a change in leadership,” Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh said in a statement. “Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and the legacy of him and his family at the University of Wisconsin.”

The news was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.

The 2022 season has started roughly for Wisconsin. An upset from Washington State and two blowout losses in a row to Ohio State and Illinois have the team sitting near the bottom of the conference standings.

Chryst received a five-year contract extension earlier this year, following Wisconsin’s victory in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Badgers went 67-26 overall under Chryst, 43-18 in the Big Ten. Chryst’s best season came in 2017 when they went 13-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Speaking during a press conference announcing the moves Sunday night, Leonhard acknowledged it was an emotional day for players and coaches alike.

“I had a long relationship with coach Chryst. As a player, mentoring me as I got into coaching. This man hired me with zero coaching experience and named me his coordinator a year later,” Leonhard said. “He has a ton of confidence in me, he made that clear when he hired me and he made that clear with me today.”

Leonhard said it will be difficult for everyone to process the shock of the sudden announcement, but that he is now focused on getting the players ready for their next game against Northwestern on Saturday.

“I also have confidence in Jim Leonhard to guide the program for the remainder of the season,” McIntosh said. “There is still a lot of season left to play and I know Jim will do a great job while the program is under his leadership.”

Despite the timing of the announcement — one day after Wisconsin was routed at Camp Randall Stadium by former coach Bret Bielema and Illinois — McIntosh said Sunday his decision was not based on a single game.

“This isn’t a game-by-game decision. This is a decision about the future of the program,” McIntosh told reporters Sunday night, saying he had an emotional meeting with Chryst earlier in the day about his decision to take the program in a different direction.

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin tweeted her thanks to Chryst Sunday night, noting his professionalism. She also thanked Leonhard and wished him success.

Leonhard will likely be a candidate to get the head coaching job permanently after the conclusion of the season, but McIntosh said he would still conduct a wide search for the program’s next head coach.

“I owe it to this program to do a full search when the time is right,” McIntosh said. “That topic is not today’s priority. Today’s priority was to take care of the kids in this program.”