Paul Chryst Q&A: 'You just try to do your best each year'
You can go home again. Paul Chryst is proving that.
The Wisconsin coach left the head coaching job at Pitt (three-year record of 19-19 with three bowls) and returned to his alma mater and hometown for the 2015 season. And, Chryst has been a smashing success, guiding the Badgers to a 10-3 mark in 2015 and an 11-3 record last season. Chryst capped each year with a bowl triumph, winning the Holiday and Cotton Bowls along with the 2016 Big Ten West championship.
Chryst’s squad should have a good chance to win the West again in 2017, but Wisconsin has some work to do. The linebacking corps and secondary are being reworked on a defense that has its third coordinator (Jim Leonhard) in three seasons. On offense, a new No. 1 running back is needed with Corey Clement gone and quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to show he has made progress.
I caught up with Chryst this week as he prepped to take the Badgers through their spring game.
Q: How has quarterback Alex Hornibrook looked?
A: He has had a good spring. He still has something to work on, but he has had a really good spring. There is so much you learn that first year. He works his tail off. He needs to continue to understand what we are doing, the timing of it. You always are still learning defenses, too. Natural stuff. But he has been good. He’s a really smart guy, a worker.
Q: Is Bradrick Shaw the No. 1 running back?
A: I like Bradrick a lot. Early, whether it’s him, Chris James and Taiwan (Deal), it will be interesting in fall camp. I don’t think you have to put it all on one guy. I think the group has some talent and we will let it take care of itself.
Q: Who will be the top two wideouts?
A: (Jazz) Peavy and I would think (Quintez) Cephus. He played some last year as a true freshman. He is talented.
Q: How is the secondary coming together with Sojourn Shelton and Leo Musso gone?
A: We moved Natrell Jamerson to safety and I think that can be a permanent move. He was our third corner last year. I think Nick Nelson (transfer from Hawaii) is a good player, a really good player. I like the secondary.
Q: How about the linebackers with Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt gone?
A: We lost some good players, a lot of production. Garret Dooley played a lot as part of a three-man rotation on the outside. Leon Jacobs played inside but is outside now. Those are two seniors. Zack Baun was a backup last year who is a good player. And Andrew Van Ginkel is a JC guy. I think those would be your top four.
Q: What makes Jim Leonhard special?
A: Jim is a really good teacher. He hasn’t been coaching long but has a lot of knowledge. He has been in a number of different schemes. It’s not like he’s a rookie to it. He is a really good teacher.
Q: What are your thoughts on the early signing period?
A: I liked when they were talking about a June, December and February signing period. Now you have too many offers being extended, some commitments are real and some aren’t. If you have a real offer and a kid wants to sign in June and he won’t take it, then it’s not a real offer. Same with December and same with February. I like the new December date, but I liked the earlier proposal with three signing days.
Q: What is your feeling about Friday night football?
A: I understand why we are doing it. But it was a pretty good world when Fridays were high schools, Saturdays were college and Sundays were the NFL. But all that has changed. You don’t want to take away from high school football. We are doing it the first game of the year that Labor Day weekend. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter what I think.
Q: How key is getting a 10th assistant coach, a proposal recently announced?
A: I love the fact we are getting it and wish we were getting it immediately. I think it’s needed. It’s good. We have some plans for how we would use that position but we have some time to figure it out.
Q: Are you surprised by your early success since returning to Wisconsin?
A: I don’t spend time thinking of that. You just try to do your best each year. I am proud of what the teams did both years, two different types of years. I always felt at Wisconsin we had a chance to win every game, and if you didn’t play well you had a chance to lose every game. I don’t think Wisconsin is unique to that. You never put a limit on things or take it for granted.