Wisconsin's Paul Chryst has options for new defensive coordinator

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin's Paul Chryst has options for new defensive coordinator

First, Dave Aranda left to run LSU’s defense. Now, Justin Wilcox is on the move to become Cal’s new head coach. That’s two defensive coordinators gone in two years. Such is life for a successful Wisconsin program led by Paul Chryst, who is in the market for a defensive coordinator for a second season in a row.

What direction will Chryst turn to fill the void? There appears to be a couple of viable options on staff, including outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard. Tibesar has been on staff two years and applied for the job last year. He has been a coordinator at Purdue and in the CFL. Leonhard just finished his first season on staff after a decorated career with the Badgers and in the NFL. He looks like a star on the rise even though he has just one season of coaching experience. Heck, maybe Chryst makes them co-coordinators.

Other possibilities could be former Minnesota defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel and former Badger Todd Orlando, who may be difficult to pry from the Texas staff. Sawvel did good work with the Gophers in 2016 in his first season running the defense. He is out of work.

And keep an eye on former Badger assistant Charlie Partridge, who was in Madison five years before a failed run as head coach at Florida Atlantic. Like Sawvel, Partridge needs a job.

This is a great opportunity for Wilcox, who was linebackers coach at Cal from 2003-05 and has extensive Pac-12 ties. He also has been defensive coordinator at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington and USC after growing up in Oregon and playing defensive back for the Ducks (1996-99). But the 40-year-old Wilcox may have done his best work last season at Wisconsin.

In his first and only season in Madison, the Badgers ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) under Wilcox, who retained the 3-4 scheme that Aranda installed and thrived. Wisconsin also was seventh in the nation in total defense (301.4 ypg), third in rushing defense (98.8 ypg) and No. 30 in passing yards allowed (202.6 ypg).

After last year, the Badgers saw Aranda leave to become defensive coordinator at LSU, which paid him $1.3 million last season after he made $520,000 in 2015 at Wisconsin.

Aranda was regarded by many to be the top assistant coach in the Big Ten. He helped Wisconsin to a 10-3 record in 2015, capped by a 23-21 victory against USC in the Holiday Bowl. The Badgers led the nation in scoring defense after the regular season (13.1) and were No. 3 in total defense (268.5), No. 4 in rushing defense (95.4) and No. 7 in passing defense (173.2).

Aranda changed the Badgers from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense and Wisconsin’s defense was ranked in the top 20 in all four major categories — scoring defense (6th), total defense (7th), rushing defense (5th) and passing defense (17th).


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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.