Wisconsin coaching candidates: Lance Leipold, Jim Leonhard among top options to replace Paul Chryst

Wisconsin has a coaching position after eighth-grade coach Paul Chryst was fired five games into the season, and it immediately becomes one of college football’s most attractive job offers. Once a doormat of the Big Ten, Wisconsin has transformed into a Midwestern powerhouse over the past few decades. From Barry Alvarez’s freshman season in 1990, through Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and now Chryst, Wisconsin has won six Big Ten titles and appeared in 27 bowl games, including seven Rose Bowls.

While Ohio State and Michigan have dominated the Big Ten throughout its history, Wisconsin has become the powerhouse of the conference’s Western Division and one of its premier programs. It’s a job that doesn’t come free often. Given his history and the money poured into the athletic department from the Big Ten’s latest TV deal, it’s the kind of job that could keep the Power Five sitting coaches away.

So who will be the next Badgers coach? Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard seems like a clear favorite, and he’ll get some sort of seven-game tryout as an interim, but he hasn’t guaranteed anything. Here is a short list of names that might spark interest.

Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin defensive coordinator/interim coach: I sincerely think that it is Leonhard’s job to lose. He was considered a waiting coach with the Badgers for a while, although most expected his wait to be a bit longer. Still, Leonhard has attracted interest in other Power Five jobs — including a few Big Ten gigs — in the past, and the feeling was he was more interested in waiting for the Wisconsin job to open up. Now he will have his chance.

Lance Leipold, Kansas coach: Leipold has done a terrific job building a Buffalo program with little history into a program vying for MAC titles, and he’s already ranked Kansas in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009 in his second season there -down. But before Leipold did all that, he led Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater to six national titles while going 109-6 in eight seasons. Leipold hails from Wisconsin, and some believe that one of the reasons Wisconsin made a move to Chryst so soon was because he wanted to make a run at Leipold before Nebraska could — or before the Kansas can’t lock him in with a new contract. If not Leonhard, I would choose Leipold as the most likely candidate.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: Some wonder if Campbell waited too long to make the jump from Iowa State. Of course, that’s assuming he never planned to jump at all. With the Cyclones just 10-8 overall and 5-6 in the Big 12 since the start of 2021, it’s hard to ignore how successful he has been in one of the toughest Power Five programs in the game. country. If Campbell decides Wisconsin is the place to be, you have to think he would win a lot of games there as well.

Dave Aranda, Baylor coach: Gary Andersen didn’t have much during his short tenure as Wisconsin coach, but he was successful as defensive coordinator. Aranda spent three seasons leading the Badgers defense before leaving for the same position at LSU. After winning a national title with the Tigers, Aranda took the job from Baylor and won the Big 12 last season. He is a California native who has coached across the country. If Wisconsin called, he should listen.

Sean Lewis, Kent State coach: It would be a change from what Wisconsin has been, but it’s time for Lewis to start being considered by the Big Ten. Lewis teams at Kent State have consistently produced fast, high-scoring offenses. The Golden Flashes put up 22 points against Georgia two weeks ago and, after playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the universe, opened conference play with a 31-24 win over Georgia. Ohio. Like Leonhard, Lewis is a Wisconsin alum as a former Badgers tight end.

North Carolina State Coach Dave Doeren: Doeren was Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2006-2010 before leaving to become head coach of Northern Illinois. After winning two conference titles in two years there, he went to NC State, where he made the Wolfpack one of the toughest programs in the ACC and produced NFL draft picks. Still, in his 10th season at NC State and coming off a loss to Clemson, Doeren may be wondering if he’s hit his ceiling in Raleigh. Maybe it’s time for a fresh start somewhere else?

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: Rhule’s tenure in the NFL hasn’t gone well, and Carolina Panthers fans would probably pay for his plane ticket to Madison, but Wisconsin fans shouldn’t worry about that. A lot of good college coaches failed in the NFL, came back, and won a lot of games. This Nick Saban guy comes to mind. Either way, Rhule won more games at Temple than anyone should be able to – he went 20-7 in the 2015 and 2016 seasons – then quickly transformed a Baylor program fresh from the depths of the fallout. of Art Briles. I have no doubt he would win in Madison too.

Chris Petersen, Fox analyst: Something of an idea off the beaten path, Petersen is one of the great college coaches of recent vintage. He went 92-12 in eight seasons at Boise State, taking the Broncos from a program no one had ever heard of to America’s favorite Cinderella story. He went on to win two Pac-12 titles and reached the college football playoffs in his six seasons in Washington, going 55-26. If he’s looking to get back into coaching, Wisconsin seems like a great place for him.

Dan Mullen, ESPN Analyst: Mullen’s time in Florida didn’t go as well as hoped, but he’s still a good offensive spirit. He proved with his time at Mississippi State that he was also a very good head coach. While he rose to prominence as a coach in the SEC, Mullen hails from Pennsylvania and has spent a lot of time in the Midwest and Northeast. Coaching in Wisconsin would therefore not be like coaching in a foreign country. I wonder how his offense would perform in a cold environment like Wisconsin. Plus, I enjoy it on TV, so maybe I shouldn’t even include it?

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