Paul Chryst out as Wisconsin head coach

The Paul Chryst era has come to an end at Wisconsin after almost eight years.

In a move that was surprising even with recent developments, the Badgers have parted ways with their head football coach after a second-straight 0-2 start in Big Ten play that included an ugly 34-10 loss to Illinois on Saturday. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will serve as the interim coach for the rest of the season.

“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,” athletic director Chris McIntosh said 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.

“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.”

Chryst won the third-most games in school history, while leading Wisconsin to the Big Ten title game three times. He won six of the seven bowl games he coached, including the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. He won 72-percent of his games and his Big Ten winning percentage of 70.5 is the second-best of any coach in school history in the last 100 years.

But the program had taken a turn for the worse in the last few seasons. Chryst and the Badgers were just 13-10 in Big Ten play since the middle of 2019 and are in danger of not winning the Big Ten West for a third straight year. This season started out with promise but a home loss as a 17-point favorite to Washington State, a blowout loss at Ohio State and the ultimate embarrassment of getting dominated at home to former coach Bret Bielema was too much for athletic director Chris McIntosh to overlook.

In steps Leonhard, considered by many to be one of the best young coordinators in the country. He has led Wisconsin’s defense since 2017 and it has finished in the top 10 in the country in four of his five seasons, though that unit has not performed at an high level this year.

“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.”

The 39-year-old has been mentioned as a potential head coach at Wisconsin and other schools in recent years. Now he gets his chance to show what he can do with a talented but flawed team that still has eight games to play.

The Badgers will travel to Northwestern to face the Wildcats on Saturday.