It didn’t take long for Wisconsin to hone in on its next head coach. A source told SI.com’s Thayer Evans that Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst is expected to become the Badgers new headman. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported earlier that the program was "poised" to hire Chryst, though Wisconsin has yet to confirm the hire per a university policy that prohibits extending an official offer until Dec. 17.
The news comes just two days after Gary Andersen stunned many by leaving the Badgers after two seasons to become the head coach at Oregon State. Andersen is the second Wisconsin coach in the past three years to abruptly exit the school, as Bret Bielema moved from Wisconsin to Arkansas in December 2012.
Chryst, who served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11, was one of the first names to pop up after Andersen’s surprise departure. Chryst is a Madison, Wis., native who played quarterback for the Badgers from 1986-88. Perhaps more important, the coach was a big part of the team’s success during his stint running the offense. He then went 19-19 in three seasons with Pittsburgh, including beating Bowling Green 30-27 in last December's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The Panthers are scheduled to play Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2.
Wisconsin went 60-19 during Chryst’s six seasons overseeing its offense. His final two attacks helped the program reach back-to-back Rose Bowls in 2011 and ’12, averaging at least 41.5 points per game in both campaigns. He was twice named a finalist for the Broyles Award, presented annually to the nation’s top assistant, while serving as Wisconsin’s coordinator.
Badgers fans shouldn’t expect a shift from their traditional run-oriented mindset under Chryst. At Pitt he coached this season’s ACC Player of the Year in tailback James Conner, who finished fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (139.6). Chryst’s 2010 Wisconsin offense almost had three 1,000-yard rushers -- James White (1,052 yards), John Clay (1,012) and Montee Ball (996) -- but he also played a big role in developing quarterback Russell Wilson during the ’11 season.
Chryst knows how to win with Wisconsin. The question is whether he can bring stability to Madison. He will be the program’s third head coach since 2012, with both Andersen and Bielema bolting for jobs that were not widely perceived as upgrades. The Badgers are still one of the Big Ten’s premier programs, but as SI.com’s Brian Hamilton wrote this week, issues behind the scenes could be the cause for unrest. Whether Chryst can handle working in that environment under former coach and current athletic director Alvarez is a wild card.
But maybe Chryst is the right coach at the right time. He is a hometown boy with coaching experience in Madison who might view this as a destination job. But he also has to build off the program’s recent success. Wisconsin won at least eight games in all but one season under Andersen and Bielema, and are coming off a 10-3 campaign that included a Big Ten title game berth (a 59-0 loss to Ohio State). There is no need to reset. Instead, there is a need for continuation.
There’s little doubt Chryst has the look of a long-term option for Wisconsin. The question is whether he can keep shaping the Badgers into a perennial contender.