It’s amazing what one week can do for a program.
On the date of Dec. 10, Wisconsin football was thrown into disarray when Gary Andersen decided to leave for a program that had not won its division or conference since the Clinton Administration.
There were no reports, no warning. One Portland Tribune tweet, and the entire fanbase went into a state of shock and confusion as small reasons behind Andersen’s decision crawled out of the woodwork. Andersen was frustrated with academic requirements. Andersen wanted to be closer to family. Andersen disagreed with strongly held program philosophies, evidenced by his new plans on offense. People had no idea what was going on and it worried the crap out of them. When this went down last time with Bielema, Wisconsin had all but two members of its coaching staff and a wealth of quality recruits poached. Losing Andersen was enough. Losing Dave Aranda or star quarterback recruit Austin Kafentzis could have been devastating.
We were at the point where many, including myself, speculated that Barry Alvarez could be hurting the program, meddling to the point where his head coaches couldn’t take it anymore. The worst part of the whole situation had, to use a phrase from a home security commercial, cost Badger fans their peace of mind. Their program may have no longer been a “destination job,” whatever that means.
Dec. 17, one week later almost to the exact hour, Badger fans have their peace of mind. Paul Chryst has returned, the prodigal son capable of running the power running offense of your dreams.
There’s no denying that Alvarez handled this transition masterfully. He immediately picked his man, and leaked enough info on it to the point where the only unknown left on the hire was if Chryst would be wearing a solid or striped red tie during his introductory press conference. He calmed the fanbase and recruits down.
In that week, pretty much everything broke right for the Wisconsin football program. Aranda is likely to stay and give what Chryst never had at Pitt: a real defense. In fact, all but two assistants are reported to be staying at Wisconsin for now, meaning Chryst will have his pick of what was a very good coaching staff. Meanwhile, Bob Bostad, an NFL-caliber offensive line coach is interested in returning to the Badgers, where he would solidify Wisconsin’s reputation as an offensive line factory and go back to intimidating my colleagues. Not a single Wisconsin recruit has flipped yet, per 247Sports. Heck, a 4-star running back in Texas even decided “Who needs a head coach?” and committed, becoming their new top recruit. At this rate, we’re about to find out Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt are receiving an extra year of college eligibility for being awesome people. The Badger band is getting back together and that’s going to go a long way toward dispelling Chryst’s less-than-stellar run at Pitt.
While saying Chryst wasn’t amazing at Pitt is slightly unfair, it’s the only thing separating this hire from being a slam-dunk. Chryst went .500 at Pitt, you can try to get around it, but it’s still there. When Bielema left, Chryst looked much more promising, going 7-6 with a depleted roster and only a year removed from running that ungodly Wilson-Ball offense. Chryst never improved on that 7-6 record, even as he molded the team into the image he desired. Wisconsin is the only job in the country where fans would rejoice hiring this man. That said, there are still reasons to believe that Wisconsin’s situation is much more Chryst-friendly than Pitt’s. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is still a thing. Chryst will be familiar with everybody and everything surrounding the program: the recruits, the high school coaches, the athletic department. He will walk into an offense with talent perfect for his power-run system, since they never really stopped bulldozing while he was gone (pass offense is a different story).
It’s definitely arguable Alvarez prioritized loyalty to his program and its philosophies over whoever was the best man for the job, it’s just fortunate that the two seem to be one and the same. Chryst is the avatar of the old-school system that has been built up since 1990, when Barry Alvarez gave everyone that great advice about buying up some season tickets.