MADISON — Looking back on the four or five years in the Wisconsin football program, Badgers seniors remember coaching changes, two bowl wins and a painful Ohio State shutout in the Big Ten Championship in 2014.
These past two seasons have seen both a sense of stability and success that may best be attributed to the arrival of head coach Paul Chryst in 2015.
Calmness and composure. The two most commonly heard phrases by Badgers players when describing their head coach. He’s not a man that will be seen heated up on the sidelines or yelling at players on the practice field, but perhaps that is what has made him into such a successful coach in only his second season.
He doesn’t need to make noise to be heard.
“He’s a players’ coach, and he puts his players first,” wide receiver Rob Wheelwright said. “I’m not saying that before [him] the coaches weren’t, but I feel like for being here for two years, I’ve seen so much from him, it feels like he’s been here for so long.”
Talking to both offensive and defensive players, they all look at his approachability as the key to making him a players’ coach. That approachability may be second nature to the 51-year old, or it may be the fact throughout his years of football, Chryst’s roots are firmly planted in Wisconsin.
Born in Madison and raised 71 miles southwest in Platteville, Chryst grew up with Wisconsin football. His father, George Chryst, was the head coach of the UW-Platteville Pioneers for 14 years, beginning in 1978. Prior to that Chryst’s father was the assistant coach at Wisconsin for six years.
After playing football at Platteville High School, the coach’s son attended the University of Wisconsin where he would play linebacker, safety, tight end and quarterback from 1986-1989. Chryst would return to UW first in 2002 as a tight ends coach, then from 2005-2011 as an offensive coordinator. After three seasons as head coach of the University of Pittsburgh, Chryst returned to his hometown when he signed as head coach on Dec. 17, 2014.
His strong ties to his home state has only strengthened the football program’s strong pride in what is Wisconsin football. After several coaching changes in the past few years, players have been able to take Chryst’s mentality and morph it into the team’s identity.
“He’s brought more of a family environment to this program. I know this program has been here for a long time but, from what I know from coach Chryst, he’s a guy that’s going to make everyone be together. He’s going to teach togetherness,” freshman wide receiver Quintez Cephus said.
This year’s Badgers football team is a team centered on family and a group mentality. It hasn’t been about personal performances for the group of high-level playmakers. It’s about the group’s collective success and, in this case, a 10-2 record and a Big Ten Championship game.
On the field, Chryst has contributed to continued success of Wisconsin’s football program with a 20-5 record and 13-4 conference record in his two seasons. Off the field, Chryst has been able to create and maintain strong relationships that have left a lasting impression on his players.
“He’s a guy that if you need something or you’re concerned about something in practice, you can go talk to him and actually tell him your thoughts, and he’ll give you truthful feedback,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “He really has such good relationships with the guys on the team, so it’s hard not to want to play for a guy like that.”
And whether directly or through his coaching style, Chryst has taught his players more about how to approach the game of football.
Going out and having fun and living in the moment, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu mentioned. Playing every game with the same level of dedication whether it’s on the practice field or in the Big Ten Championship, Edwards reflected. His constant calmness even in games like last week when the Badgers trailed Minnesota at halftime, running back Dare Ogunbowale said.
You may never see Chryst losing his cool after a bad play or tearing down the field with the fury to fire up his players, but that’s okay because his presence has created the drive and the motivation in the guys on the field to make him proud and represent Wisconsin football.
“The type of guy he is,” Cephus said. “I think it wears off on the team in a good way.”
After receiving the honor of Big Ten Coach of the Year and traveling to Indianapolis this weekend for the Big Ten Championship, Chryst’s quiet success has sparked the attention of outsiders. Though outside chatter always exists, players assume that their Wisconsin-bred head coach will be staying with his alma mater for quite some time.
“I think that’s what all of Wisconsin is based off of, a family, being family oriented,” Wheelwright said. “With him being here and people knowing he’ll be here for a long time, I feel like that just helps.”