Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst on Sunday after a 2-3 start to his eighth season leading the school where he played, in the city where he grew up.
The surprising move comes a day after Wisconsin lost at home 34-10 to Illinois and former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.
Chryst is 67-26 since taking over as coach of the Badgers in 2015 after being hired away from Pittsburgh.
But the program has been backsliding. Chryst had double-digit win seasons in four of his first five years at Wisconsin and had gone 15-10 since.
Chryst, the 56-year-old Madison native, has four years left on his contract. He was set to make $5.25 million this season.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, another former Badgers player, was named interim coach. The 39-year-old former NFL defensive back has been part of Chryst’s staff for seven seasons and considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country.
The in-season coaching move was the fifth already this season, and second of the day. Earlier Sunday, Colorado dismissed Karl Dorrell.
But none of the changes have been as unexpected as Wisconsin’s.
The program has been built on stability for more than three decades since Barry Alvarez turned it around in the 1990s.
Chryst, who payed quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, was an assistant and offensive coordinator under Alvarez and Bielema.
The Badgers’ offense, built on a powerful running game and efficient passing, has often looked stale over the last three years and struggled against better competition. Wisconsin managed only 2 yards rushing against Illinois, the program’s lowest total since 2015.
After losing to Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 20 years, Chryst said he was undeterred and looked forward to getting a chance to fix the problems.
“Do you want to be better? Absolutely. And you just want to focus on the things that you can do to help move the needle, help our players and assistant coaches,” he said. “So I didn’t think it’s going to be easy, and yet I believe in this group and I like this group. I appreciate where they’re coming from and how they go about it. I look forward to each day I get to be with them.
“We get to be together again, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and continue to go to work.”
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://bit.ly/3pqZVaF