As far as I’m aware, there are no T-shirts with Paul Chryst’s face on them. While I personally think they’d be a hit, they sadly don’t seem to exist. Yet as my Instagram feed reminds me almost weekly, such shirts do exist for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh — plain white T-shirts adorned with his face stretched out to be three feet tall (note: his mouth is only slightly bigger on the shirt than in real life). And that’s pretty much all you need to know about those two coaches.
Chryst and Harbaugh were both hired in 2015 to take over their respective alma maters. The reception awaiting the two could not have been more different. Chryst’s hiring was generally met with unquestioning approval. Yet his proverbial welcome parade was nothing compared to Harbaugh’s coronation.
Harbaugh — undeniably the second-best Harbaugh brother (my experience as a Ravens fan certainly isn’t clouding my judgment here) — was welcomed back as the favorite son, the savior of Michigan football. He’s certainly had an impressive career, winning everywhere he’s gone (except for Super Bowl 47 — but I’m forgetting who won that one). His career at the helm of the Wolverines got off to an auspicious start, as he turned a 5-7 team into a 10-win championship contender. Since then, his success has been pretty consistent, as he won 10 games in 2016 as well and will have a chance to reach the milestone again this year.
Yet that level of success can only be seen as a disappointment for now. While he inherited a team of players whom he didn’t recruit, his last two teams have featured players that he has personally brought to Ann Arbor. While his recruiting classes have been strong in the rankings (which tend to be highly unreliable at predicting future success), it still hasn’t translated to big wins. Many of his guys are still young, of course, and it’s too early to declare his tenure thus far a failure. But for a program like Michigan’s, which takes immense pride in its tradition and past accomplishments, finishing third in the B1G East year after year is not nearly good enough. This business demands that expectations be met within a few years, and that simply has not happened yet. Despite all the national attention and fawning over Harbaugh, the results simply have not been there. Few people would advocate letting him go, but it would be beyond foolhardy to suggest that he’s fulfilled his goals thus far in his tenure.
Chryst, on the other hand, has had no such struggles. While his personality could not be more different from Harbaugh’s, UW fans should be okay with that. He continues to win games and division titles, and will find himself in Indianapolis in December, where Harbaugh will in all likelihood be conspicuously absent — again. His Badgers clinched yet another 10-win season in mid-November, with at least four more games to play. His interviews may be on the dull side, and he’s never slept over at a recruit’s house, but he gets the results. He doesn’t let success get to him; he keeps his head down and keeps his eyes on the prize — rather than on the TV cameras. Not to mention that fact that he can wear khakis with the best of them (Harbaugh doesn’t have a monopoly on dorky-looking outfits).
There may never be a Chryst T-shirt — I’d be first in line if they released one — but I think everyone is okay with that. While some fan bases can revel in empty idolatry, Wisconsin’s can revel in continued on-field success. And as long as coach Chryst is at the helm, there will likely be manifold opportunities to make new T-shirts: championship T-shirts. For the time being, that’s more than Michigan’s fans can say.