Big Ten football notebook | Paul Chryst out as Wisconsin head coach, West division wide open

The Badgers fired Chryst on Sunday — one day after their 34-10 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini.


Nick Rohlman

Wisconsin Head Coach Paul Chryst takes the field before Iowa’s game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 28-17.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

Wisconsin became the second Big Ten West school to fire its head football coach this season Sunday. The Badgers parted ways with Paul Chryst one day after their 34-10 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini. Nebraska parted ways with its head coach, Scott Frost, on Sept. 11.

Chryst went 67-26 during his near-eight-year stint in Madison. With Chryst at the helm, Wisconsin won three Big Ten West Division titles and finished three seasons inside the top 15 in the AP poll.

“It’s a big decision, and it’s got implications that are not lost on me,” Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh said at an Oct. 2 press conference. “But really, really thankful to have been able to work side-by-side with coach Chryst through some incredibly exhilarating, positive moments, and some tough ones like today.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will take over Wisconsin’s head coaching duties on an interim basis.

“It’s my role to have the position of our program always on my mind,” McIntosh said. “We just reached a point where today I felt was the right time to make that decision. It’s not one I take lightly; it’s an incredibly tough day for us all. But I’m incredibly optimistic that today is the first day of the future of this program.”

Leonhard was a three-time All-American defensive back at Wisconsin. After a 10-year NFL career, Leonhard joined Wisconsin’s coaching staff as defensive backs coach in 2016. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017.

Wisconsin will travel to Evanston on Oct. 8 to face Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.

Big Ten West up for grabs

Chryst’s firing capped off a wild week in the Big Ten West. Six of the division’s seven teams are tied for first place through five weeks of action.

Wisconsin is the only team in the West not tied for first. The 0-2 Badgers trail a crop of schools that are 1-1 in conference play this season.

Technically, Illinois, Northwestern, and Purdue are in the driver’s seat because their conference wins came against their divisional brethren.

RELATED: Opinion | The Big Ten West is a mess, and Iowa football fits right in

Last week, Illinois beat Wisconsin, Purdue upset Minnesota, and Nebraska grabbed a win against Indiana. Iowa and Northwestern took losses to Michigan and Penn State — two Big Ten East teams.

The race for the East division crown might only have three legitimate horses: Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State. One of those three teams has represented the East in seven of the last eight Big Ten Championship Games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

In Week 6, the only West versus West matchups are Wisconsin-Northwestern and Iowa-Illinois. Purdue is facing Maryland, Nebraska is matching up with Rutgers, and Minnesota has a bye week.

Iowa won the Big Ten West in 2021, advancing to the league title game. The Hawkeyes were blown out by the Wolverines, 42-3, in Indiana.

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