When Paul Chryst arrived in Madison to become the next head football coach at Wisconsin, he looked out at Camp Randall from his window at HotelRED and recalled memories of a program that has been an integral part of his life since childhood.
“I remember being a paper boy and delivering six papers to the stadium,” Chryst said. “I had one of my worst wipeouts on a bike. I hit the railroad tracks the wrong way, went down and went to heal myself at the doughnut shop down the road.”
It’s that local connection and familiarity that provides hope to many that Chryst, who was announced as the 30th head coach in program history Wednesday, will stick around for a while.
“There’s a spirit that is undeniable here,” Chryst said. “For us to be a part of that is something that you truly don’t take for granted and I couldn’t be more fortunate.”
The Madison native and former Badger quarterback, assistant coach and offensive coordinator returned to Wisconsin after spending three years as the head coach at Pittsburgh, where he compiled a 19-19 record. Chryst replaces Gary Andersen, who left Dec. 10 to take the head coaching job at Oregon State.
Considering Andersen was the second head coach to leave the program in three seasons, many have wondered if Wisconsin remains a “destination job” for coaches or if it is just a stepping-stone to something better. Chryst said the concept of a “destination job” is not an automatic one.
“When you talk about destination job, I think you got to earn the right to stay that long where people qualify,” Chryst said. “Certainly there’s two great examples with Coach Alvarez and what [basketball head coach] Bo [Ryan] is doing in hoops. They’ve earned the right to make it a destination job.”
As Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator for seven seasons from 2005-‘11, Chryst engineered some of the most prolific attacks in program history. Among the Badgers’ top 10 total offense marks ever, Chryst is responsible for six of them. He worked with players like Russell Wilson and Montee Ball and guided them to historically significant seasons.
That type of offensive production has some current Badgers salivating.
“The things that he’s done offensively have been really, really impressive,” said redshirt junior quarterback Joel Stave. “The seasons that he had as a coordinator, in 2010, 2011, were very, very good seasons for us.”
Sophomore running back Corey Clement tried to hold back a wide smile when asked about Chryst’s offensive style, which heavily utilizes the run game.
“I’m hoping that he just makes the offense how he does,” he said with a grin. “I’m just going to leave it all in his hands. You just tell us what you want us to do as an offense and we’ll get it done.”
Clement has a unique relationship with Chryst, considering he formerly committed to Pittsburgh before deciding to come to Wisconsin.
“I said, ‘So are we on good terms now?’ and he said yeah,” Clement said. “Between me and him, it’s kind of a funny thing we can just laugh at now. It’s nothing serious.”
There is no word yet on whether Chryst will retain any of the current members of the coaching staff. He will likely want to bring in his own assistants to keep everyone on the same page, but Chryst said he would speak to the other coaches Thursday.
Athletic director Barry Alvarez said Chryst was the first person he thought of to replace Andersen.
“I’ve always said fit is very important,” Alvarez said. “I don’t know where you can find a better fit or qualified person than Paul and his family.”
Chryst noted that while coming home was an enticing option, it was still difficult to leave behind his players at Pittsburgh. Ultimately, however, the idea of joining a university with superb athletics and academics was too good to pass up.
“When you can go into that [recruit’s] home and you know it to be true, that you’re offering them a world-class education, and they’re also getting the opportunity to play … in a tremendous program football-wise, when those two match up, you’ve got a lot to offer,” he said.
Now Chryst is not only faced with the task of preserving Wisconsin’s strong recent history but to also take a consistently solid program to the next level. Thanks to the College Football Playoff, the Badgers now have their best chance ever at winning a national championship.
“As great a day as today is,” Chryst said, “I also don’t want it to be the best day.”