MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst’s postgame media session was approaching the 13-minute mark Saturday when Badgers sports information director Brian Lucas posed the only question Chryst wanted to hear.
“Anything else for coach?” Lucas asked.
“Nope, I’m good,” replied Chryst, who stood to quickly leave the interview room.
It was another small moment that demonstrated exactly what Chryst is about as the face of the Badgers’ program. He isn’t there to win the press conference. He is there to win football games. And nobody has done a better job of that this season than Chryst.
For further evidence, take No. 5 Wisconsin’s 24-10 victory against No. 24 Michigan on a cold, windy Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers moved to 11-0 and are one of four unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS. They need two more victories to earn a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history, all with Chryst pulling the strings.
Yet while Wisconsin rises to never-before-seen heights in Madison, Chryst would much rather the focus be anywhere but on him. During his weekly availability with reporters Monday, members of Wisconsin’s softball team left their gear in the media room. When Badgers softball players entered, Chryst abruptly ended his press conference and joked that they needed the room.
“Obviously, he’s not the type of guy who’s gonna do the best interviews,” Badgers left tackle Michael Deiter said. “But he’s a great coach and he’s a great person. And that’s what you want. You’d rather have a coach like that other than someone who could sit at a podium and sound perfect.”
Wisconsin was a strong, nationally relevant program before Chryst took over the team. But what he has accomplished in three seasons has been remarkable. He is 32-6 overall and one of only three coaches in Big Ten history to win 10-plus games in each of his first three seasons, joining Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (2012-15) and Michigan’s Fielding Yost (1901-03). Chryst and Meyer are the only league coaches since 1996 to win at least 20 of their first 25 conference games. Meyer was 25-0, while Chryst is 21-4.
Big Ten record through 25 games (1996-present)
|Urban Meyer||Ohio State||2012-15||25-0 (1.000)|
|Paul Chryst||Wisconsin||2015-17||21-4 (.840)|
|Jim Tressel||Ohio Sttate||2001-04||19-6 (.760)|
|Bo Pelini||Nebraska||2011-14||18-7 (.720)|
|Joe Tiller||Purdue||1997-2000||17-8 (.680)|
Last season, Wisconsin was expected to win seven or eight games. Instead, the Badgers far exceeded expectations to capture the Big Ten West, win the Cotton Bowl and finish 11-3. Chryst was named the Hayes-Schembechler Big Ten Coach of the Year. His individual accolades could be even greater this time around.
Chryst has been selected as one of 13 semifinalists for the Maxwell Football Club’s collegiate coach of the year honor, which has been awarded annually since 1989. And the more Chryst wins, the more he states his case as a frontrunner for multiple national coach of the year honors — even if he would never state that case for himself.
“That has never crossed my mind,” Chryst said after the game Saturday. “I think that collectively, players and coaches, I’m proud of the way everyone’s staying in the moment and trying to help get better. We’re not done yet. You want them to enjoy this victory — they’re not easy — and then come back and get ready for next week.”
Chryst has thrived by staying true to himself, with a style all his own. Consider the differences in the two men in charge of their respective programs Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten at more than $8.5 million. He holds signing day ceremonies featuring the rap group Migos, takes his team to Rome during spring practice and once showed up at kicker Quinn Nordin’s house the first minute he could contact the recruit under NCAA rules for a sleepover.
Chryst is the ninth-highest paid Big Ten football coach at $3.2 million. He is in every way the antithesis to Harbaugh’s flamboyant, over-the-top style. The next time Chryst’s recruiting visit goes viral will be the first.
“He’s not a flashy coach, which I don’t think anybody here wants,” Badgers right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “He’s a great fit for Wisconsin. We know every week we’re going to have a great game plan going in, and it’s our job to execute it.”
Chryst’s ability to relate to his players is one of his strongest attributes, even though it appears from the outside that he has nothing in common with them. Chryst, who turned 52 years old Friday, lists country musician Phil Vassar as his favorite artist and enjoys listening to Kenny Chesney. But he isn’t afraid to have players introduce him to the sounds of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Future.
Members of Wisconsin’s secondary have coined the moniker “Jack Boys” for themselves. Although Chryst doesn’t know what it means, he’ll occasionally refer to them by that name.
“He just relates to all of his players really well,” Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “He knows what to say, what to do. He just has a connection with pretty much every guy in a different way, so it’s great to see that from a coach. We all love playing for him.”
Added Wisconsin safety Joe Ferguson: “He’s brought us together as people. It’s a bunch of guys that care about each other. Coach Chryst shows that he cares about us, too. We know he’s in it to make us better young men. He’s not in it to capitalize off us or do anything like that. We want to do the same for him.”
Players say Chryst is someone who is stern but fair. He holds his team accountable for mistakes but also is there to pick players up when they need it. Chryst also isn’t afraid to have fun with his team by poking fun at himself.
“If he did something wrong in camp, if he’s like, ‘Well that was an [expletive] dumb idea,’ we’ll usually get a good chuckle out of that,” Benzschawel said.
The game Saturday represented a significant victory for the Wisconsin program. Michigan’s defense dominated in the teams’ matchup last season when the Wolverines won 14-7 in Ann Arbor. In fact, Michigan has routinely outplayed Wisconsin in the series. The Wolverines entered the day leading the all-time series 50-14-1. Since 1965, the Badgers were 7-32 against the Wolverines. But Chryst has Wisconsin performing on a level that appears to be every bit as good as the traditional Big Ten powers.
Wisconsin plays Ohio State in two weeks for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. The contest will match two of the most-successful league coaches against each other in what could be the most significant game of Chryst’s life. The pressure around the Badgers’ program to achieve something unforgettable will mount. But this much is certain: Chryst will be the same levelheaded, spotlight-averse, player’s coach the Badgers have known from Day 1.
“Coach Chryst is the man because he’s himself,” Ferguson said. “He doesn’t change.”