Paul Chryst returns for his seventh season as the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. Chryst also will have additional responsibilities on offense this season. While the Badgers return most of their coaching staff from last year, the offseason wasn’t without change. The Badgers lost their running backs, quarterbacks, and defensive line coach’s. They also decided to add a cornerbacks coach to the staff as well.
The big news comes from the fact that Jim Leonhard decided to return for his fifth season. Badger fans everywhere held their breath when he interviewed with the Green Bay Packers about their defensive coordinator vacancy. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur went as far as to offer him the job. Leonhard obviously turned it down to return to Madison. While Badger fans celebrate, opponents everywhere groan.
Despite trying to keep running backs coach John Settle on the staff, he opted to take the same job at Kentucky. In his second stint in Madison, Settle had a key hand in developing Jonathan Taylor, Corey Clement, and Dare Ogunbowale during their time on campus. He also did a great job at pointing Jalen Berger in the right direction. Despite losing Settle to Kentucky, the Badgers turned to the professional ranks by hiring former longtime Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown.
During his time in Dallas, he helped the Cowboys produce three rushing titles in seven years. One by DeMarco Murray and two by Ezekiel Elliot. He also helped Darren McFadden rush for 1,000 yards during his starting stint in Dallas. He also brings additional experience coaching with the Cleveland Browns and current Big Ten foe, Rutgers. It should be noted that during his time in Cleveland, he was responsible for helping Peyton Hillis on the Madden cover. During that season, Hillis rushed for a career-high 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. In his last season with the Browns, he made Trent Richardson look like a competent running back. Brown was a great hire for Wisconsin as he brings a wealth of NFL coaching experience to the Badgers backfield. Brown also inherits some very talented running backs already on this team.
Quarterback’s coach, Jon Budmayr, left campus to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado State. Budmayr had been on Paul Chryst’s staff at both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin since 2014. Even when Wisconsin didn’t officially have the position coach title, he primarily worked with the quarterbacks. Under his tutelage, Alex Hornibrook and Jack Coan all had success during their time on campus. He also did a great job in preparing Graham Mertz the best he could despite no spring practices.
With Budmayr departing, Paul Chryst will now also add the quarterbacks to his duties. Chryst has had plenty of success in Madison with the quarterbacks. Before becoming head coach at Pittsburgh, he coached the quarterbacks under Bret Bielema from 2006-2011. Under his tutelage, John Stocco, Scott Tolzien, and most memorably Russell Wilson all had success under center during their time in Madison. During his first three seasons as the head coach, Chryst was the quarterbacks coach helping both Joel Stave and Alex Hornibrook have success on the field.
After an inconsistent offensive output in 2020, including three weeks where the Badgers score just 20 points, Paul Chryst has taken back playcalling responsibilities from Joe Rudolph. He has also changed Rudolph’s title from offensive coordinator to run game coordinator. While injuries and inconsistent play were a major factor, it ultimately goes back to coaching and playcalling as well.
Last season was the first time that Paul Chryst wasn’t calling plays. While the Badgers offense started off hot, it regressed as the season went on. Perhaps the offensive line suffered because Rudolph couldn’t focus on them as much due to playcalling responsibilities. Rudolph will now primarily focus on the offensive line once again. Chryst is no stranger to playcalling as a head coach, as he did from 2015-2019. Chryst has also been at the controls of five of the top eight offensives in school history, including the top two.
Longtime defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield has departed for the same role at Vanderbilt. Breckterfield had been on Chryst’s staffs at both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. In his six seasons leading the defensive line, he helped produce four all-conference players. The Badgers promoted Ross Kolodziej to be the new coach. Kolodziej spent the past six seasons leading the Badgers strength and conditioning program.
After declining to hire a new quarterbacks coach, the Badgers decided to bring in Hank Poteat to coach the cornerbacks instead. Poteat was once a graduate assistant for Paul Chryst at Pitt; he spent the last four seasons at the University of Toledo, where he held the same position. He helped the Rockets win a MAC title in his first season and brings a wealth of experience from the college and pro levels.
Although there are some changes to the coaching staff, I believe the Badgers found the right guys. Having Paul Chryst take over coaching the quarterbacks and playcalling will pay dividends. History has shown that the Badgers are good at replacing departing coaches, and fans shouldn’t expect anything less.