Wisconsin has fired coach Paul Chryst five games into the 2022 season, the university announced Sunday. The Badgers part ways with Chryst following a 2-3 start to the season, which included a 34-10 home loss to Illinois and former Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema in Week 5.
"After a heartfelt and authentic conversation with Coach Chryst about what is in the long-term best interest of our football program, I have concluded that now is the time for a change in leadership," said athletic director Chris McIntosh in a statement. "Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and the legacy of him and his family at the University of Wisconsin."
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who is in his seventh season with the program and sixth as DC, will serve as Wisconsin's interim coach over the remaining games of the season.
"I appreciate Chris McIntosh placing his trust in me to lead our team," Leonhard said. "My focus right now is on our players and moving forward with preparing them for our game on Saturday at Northwestern."
A Madison native, Chryst played quarterback for the Badgers from 1986 to 1988 and spent the better part of the last two decades coaching at his alma mater. In January, the university's athletic board approved a five-year extension for Chryst through the 2026 season. Wisconsin will pay Chryst an $11 million buyout, due before Feb. 1, 2023, but could have been on the hook for as much as $19.5 million.
Who should replace Chryst at Wisconsin? Tom Fornelli.
The loss to the Illini marked a low point for what has normally been a reliable, upper-tier Big Ten program under Chryst. The Badgers, known traditionally for being physically dominating in the trenches, notched just 2 yards rushing on the day. While the 24-point home loss was the final straw, it was far from the only worrying result in 2022. The Badgers lost at home to Washington State 17-14 three weeks ago, and they were non-competitive in a 52-21 loss to Ohio State in Week 4. Setbacks like those have happened plenty of times in Madison, but all three aren't supposed to happen within the same season -- let alone in the span of a month.
The steep decline was a surprising storyline. Chryst never had a losing season in eight seasons at Wisconsin, leading the program to double-digit wins across four campaigns. The most recent in 2019 ended with a berth to the Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin lost 28-27 to Oregon. The Badgers advanced to the Big Ten Championship Game three times under Chryst, though they lost all three chances (twice to Ohio State, once to Penn State).
Chryst finishes 67-26 (.720) overall at Wisconsin, though the team went 52-16 (.765) across his first five seasons and just 15-10 (.600) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He previously served as the coach at Pittsburgh, where he went 19-19 in three seasons with the Panthers.
In a cruel twist of fate, Chryst's 67 wins with the Badgers are the third-most in school history -- one win behind Bielema, who beat Chryst in what would be his final game with the program.