Paul Chryst is out as Wisconsin’s head football coach.
Wisconsin officials announced Sunday that Chryst has been removed five games into his eighth season as the Badgers’ head coach.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, 39, is to be named interim head coach.
“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,” UW athletic director Chris McIntosh said. “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.
“I also have confidence in Jim Leonhard to guide the program for the remainder of the season. There is still a lot of season left to play and I know Jim will do a great job while the program is under his leadership.”
The move came less than 24 hours after UW suffered a humbling 34-10 home loss to Illinois.
That dropped UW to 0-2 in the Big Ten and 2-3 overall.
“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.
“I owe a lot to Coach Chryst. Everyone in our program does. He gave me my first coaching job, and for that I am forever grateful. As a Badger, I thank him for his impact on our football program and our players over many years.”
Chryst, 56, leaves UW with a 43-18 Big Ten mark and 67-26 overall. UW was 6-1 in bowl games under Chryst.
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He entered the season with a 43-16 Big Ten record and a 65-23 overall mark. UW won West Division titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 but lost in the league title game each time.
The Badgers were 2-1 when they opened Big Ten play at Ohio State but suffered a humiliating 52-21 loss to the Buckeyes and then were dominated by the Illini on Saturday.
Leonhard, an All-American safety at UW, played 10 seasons in the NFL before returning to UW as secondary coach in 2016.
He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017 and has held that position for the last five-plus seasons.
From 2017 through last season, UW finished among the top five nationally in total defense and top 10 in scoring defense four times.
During that time, UW was third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), first in total yards allowed (284.8 yards per game), first in pass efficiency defense (110.5 rating), third in rushing defense (103.4 ypg) and first third-down defense (30.5% conversion rate).
Leonhard has turned down several job opportunities over the years and last year was approached by the Packers in their search for a new defensive coordinator.
Leonhard chose to remain at UW and the Packers eventually hired Joe Barry.
More recently, Leonhard’s name was linked to an opening at Nebraska.
“I mean, I understand it,” Leonhard said when asked about the Nebraska opening. “I don’t really pay too much attention. I get a lot of texts and calls about it. It’s funny. There were many verified, kind of random sources out there that I had taken jobs.
“It was pretty funny to see. I have talked about it a lot. I am comfortable here. I am not saying this is the place I’ll be for the rest of my life, but I love this place. I love what we’re doing. I like the guys and who I am coaching with. I am not in a rush to make the decisions that some people think I am.”
Chryst was asked after the loss to Illinois if his confidence had been shaken.
“I think that we’ve got to do a good job,” he said. “When you take a look at everything, and you’re always going to look at everything. How are we coaching them? What are we doing?
“I think…we’ve just got to play better.”
Chryst’s plan to was to get the team ready for a critical road game against Northwestern this week. As of early Sunday, his regularly scheduled Monday press conference was on.
That changed Sunday night.
Chryst was out; Leonhard was in.