The signing of Paul Chryst to the Badgers coaching staff has had more than a few skeptics, myself included, wondering about the upcoming state of Badger football. Change is in the air, the question is … who’s part of Wisconsin’s upcoming plans, and who’s not?
Last season, after defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove left, it was Bret Bielema who took over the Badger defense. Coming over from the Kansas State ranks, Bielema enjoyed a paramount of success, with the exception of the Badgers’ final three regular season games, in his first year.
This season’s change of flavor is Chryst. Last week Chryst took over for the departed Rob Ianello as the tight ends coach for the Badgers. But Chyrst also enters the Badger coaching ranks as Wisconsin’s co-offensive coordinator, teaming up with current offensive coordinator Brian White to run the offense next year.
Adding two new coordinators to an established program in consecutive years is quite a bit of change. So humor me for a moment as I make a few observations about the implications that Bielema’s and Chyrst’s signings have on the Badger coaching landscape.
Prior to Bielema’s reign on the Badger sidelines, Cosgrove had run the Wisconsin defense. Cosgrove enjoyed numerous successes over the past nine seasons with the Badgers, including winning back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1998 and 1999. But in a “what have you done for me lately” business, Cosgrove’s defenses were slipping.
However, Cosgrove had worked his way up the ladder at Wisconsin. An original member of Alvarez’s coaching staff in 1990, Cosgrove coached linebackers for his first five seasons in Madison before taking over at defensive coordinator in 1995 after Dan McCarney left the Badgers to take over as head coach at Iowa State.
McCarney, Alvarez’s first defensive coordinator, had worked with Alvarez for several years when both were assistant coaches under Hayden Fry at Iowa.
Chyrst is in a similar situation on the offensive side. While Chyrst has not taken over for Brian White yet, he is another coach coming from outside the ranks of Alvarez’s staff to become a crucial leader on the coaching staff.
True, Chyrst does have connections with Wisconsin, playing here in the mid-80s and spending one season as a tight ends coach in 2002, but he has spent most of his career away from the Alvarez regime.
When White took over as offensive coordinator in 1998 he, like Cosgrove, had paid his dues on the Wisconsin sideline. White joined the coaching staff in 1995, coming from UNLV to coach Wisconsin running backs. But, three years later White found himself at the helm of the Badger offense after Brad Childress left the Badgers to be quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Childress had coached at Wisconsin for a season before taking over the offensive coordinator position from Russ Jacques, another Alvarez original.
So the question remains, after years of promoting coaches to coordinators from within his own coaching ranks, or in the case of his original coordinators, coaches he had worked with extensively, why has Barry Alvarez suddenly changed his pattern in the last two seasons?
Does he believe that he has no capable coaches to promote within his ranks?
That seems unlikely.
Alvarez has enjoyed the services of John Palermo, his current defensive line coach, since 1990, and Palermo currently serves as Alvarez’s assistant head coach. Palermo also has a year of college head coaching experience at Austin Peay State prior to his stay with the Badgers.
Offensively, quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton has six years of head coaching experience with Nevada and UNLV. He also aided in the development of quarterback Jon Denton, who broke 10 NCAA records in his time at UNLV.
With the knowledge and experience possessed by Horton and Palermo, not to mention the continued presence of White, there is no reason Alvarez needs to search outside his ranks for new coaches.
Well, then is Alvarez trying to fill his staff with local coaches to help appease fans?
Come on people. Really, I’ve heard this argument and it’s preposterous. Alvarez is a fan-favorite and deservedly so. He’s taken the Wisconsin program from Big Ten embarrassment to Big Ten champion. He’s never hired coaches or signed players just because it was a good public relations move and he is not starting now.
No. What’s happening is Alvarez is preparing for the future. It is inevitable that the Wisconsin football savior will eventually leave, and these moves make it seem like it is sooner rather than later. For the first time in years, Alvarez is refraining from promoting within his staff; rather he is laying the foundation for his upcoming departure.
Bielema came to Wisconsin as an unknown commodity. He was the co-defensive coordinator of a tough Kansas State defense, but no one knew just how instrument to that success he was. Bielema’s chance at Wisconsin gave him that chance to prove how great of a coach he was.
Chyrst ran a productive offensive system at Oregon State. Maybe it’s just me but I find it hard to believe that Chryst would want to leave his offensive coordinator position for a spot to share those duties, and possibly not even call the plays, in Wisconsin unless there was something in it for him.
Chryst and Bielema are both talented coaches and fiery competitors, and both have something to prove. But the two also share another trait in common — youth, with neither coach over the age of 40. By not promoting within, Alvarez has left the door open for one of his two newest coaches to take over for him. He has given them the ability to make their own staff, their own choices and their own mistakes without forcing his coaches and style on them.
The Alvarez era appears to be quickly coming to its end, and the new generation is here.