In 2014, the Big Ten separated the conference to the West and East divisions and since then, Wisconsin has been put into a position where anything less than an appearance in the Big Ten Conference championship game is a disappointment and to a degree, a failure.
The program has now failed to reach the conference title game in consecutive seasons for the first time since the title game debuted in 2011 and fans want to blame somebody. Much of their wrath has been aimed at UW head coach Paul Chryst.
If you polled every single UW supporter, the majority would say that Paul Chryst should NOT be fired — and it wouldn’t even be close. However, irrationality can be a fun part of being a fan.
I’m here to tell you that Chryst will not be fired, nor should he, and he is nowhere near any sort of hot seat discussion as we look forward to the bowl game and 2022 season.
However, he will be criticized until the Badgers reach the Big Ten title game again, and rightfully so (to a degree), because UW should be preparing for Michigan this Saturday instead of waiting to find out their bowl destination and opponent.
Chryst has been a very successful hire for Wisconsin. There’s a good chance he will continue to hold his dream job as long as he wants.
So far in his seven seasons, Chryst has compiled a 64-23 (.736) record, including a 43-16 (.729) Big Ten record and going 5-1 (.833) in Bowl Games on top of having five wins over Top-10 opponents.
UW has had four 10+ win seasons in seven seasons, including the coronavirus 2020 season where UW only played seven games total.
Had the Badgers done what they should of done and finished the job Saturday night against Minnesota and ended the season on an 8-game winning streak and an appearance in the Big Ten title game, all of you that want Chryst fired would have applauded Chryst for one of the best coaching jobs in history. But UW failed to get it done Saturday, so Chryst wasn’t applauded.
No matter what side of the fence you’re on, it’s impossible to ignore the winning culture that has continued under Chryst’s leadership when you look at some of the top programs in the country struggling despite having far better resources than Wisconsin will ever have. Let’s take this 2021 season for example: USC and Florida State don’t have 10 wins combined, Texas lost six games in a row before winning their finale, LSU needed a last minute touchdown to reach bowl eligibility and Florida gave up 42 points to Samford before halftime.
Those programs have far more talent on their roster than UW does, but they have clear cultural issues that the Badgers don’t have.
Things could have gotten real ugly after the 1-3 start for Wisconsin, but UW’s players and coaching staff continued to buy in and never quit on the season, which doesn’t happen around the country every fall. Teams often take on the personality of the head coach, and Chryst’s not-too-high, not-too-low demeanor was a huge benefit, because the roster fought till the very end.
It’s also hard to ignore Wisconsin’s recent recruiting success. UW finished the highest they’ve ever been in the 247Sports class rankings for three consecutive years. UW is also in the mix for four uncommitted 4-star prospects with the Early Signing Period just a couple weeks away.
Chryst brings a great level of stability to the program and university. Paul is in a spot where he wants to be, and Wisconsin doesn’t want to bring in anybody else if it doesn’t have to. The combination of the two makes it a lot easier to sell UW to recruits.
It wasn’t that long ago where UW was considered as a “not so good” job, with three head coaches in a little more than two year span. When there’s constant change in the head coaching position, that’s when recruiting really suffers and players start leaving, especially now that there’s immediate eligibility for transfers. As they left for worse jobs, Bret Bielema criticized Wisconsin for its assistant coach pay, and Gary Andersen was not pleased with admission standards.
Andersen’s abrupt exit was incredibly fortunate considering he was going away from everything that had made Wisconsin successful, and his following head coaching stints (Oregon State and a return to Utah State) were total failures. Chryst came in at a perfect time and got UW back on track.
Now it’s fair to question Paul Chryst on this: The comparison between Jack Coan and Graham Mertz was going to be inevitable all season long. Jack Coan clearly had a better season at Notre Dame than Graham Mertz did at Wisconsin, and it’s not even close.
We may never get the full story of what the conversations were between Coan and the coaching staff during and after the 2020 season, but whatever the discussions were, it seems highly likely that Chryst did not guarantee him the starting job at quarterback for 2021.
It’s impossible to know how Coan would have performed in this version of UW’s offense, but that was a mistake. Coan was put in a bad position where he could’ve spent his final season as a backup to Mertz, but he has Notre Dame in a position to potential sneak into the College Football Playoff as he guided Notre Dame to an 11-1 season, completing 67.6% of his passes for 2,641 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Meanwhile, Wisconsin went 8-4 despite having an elite-level defense as Mertz completed 58.7% of his passes for 1,821 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
In UW’s four losses, the passing game was atrocious. Mertz completed 52.7% of his passes and threw just two touchdowns and turned the ball over nine times (7 interceptions, 2 fumbles) in those four games.
Coan had the benefit of playing with a NFL caliber wide receiver in Quintez Cephus in his lone season as UW’s full-time starter, but it’s tough to say he still wouldn’t have put up better numbers for Wisconsin than Mertz in 2021.
The offensive line was an issue for UW early on in the season and the running game mightily struggled to get going because of it.
Chryst was never more criticized than he was late in the fourth quarter on Saturday night against Minnesota in a bizarre sequence of events. Facing a 4th-and-1 with less than five minutes remaining and trailing by 10 points, Wisconsin brought out the punt team (by mistake). After a false start on the punt, UW was backed up five yards before Chryst put the offense back on the field and wasted a timeout.
Wisconsin ended up converting the fourth-down play, but the whole situation was just bizarre with UW trailing by two possessions.
Now had Wisconsin pulled off the miracle comeback, that sequence would have largely been forgotten.
All of that gives fans that want Chryst fired fodder for venting, but that doesn’t erase seven years of stability and success. Paul Chryst’s job security remains as solid as Wisconsin’s defense.