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6 things we learned about the day Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh fired Paul Chryst

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Columnist Jim Polzin reacts to the decision to fire Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst.

Paul Chryst served as University of Wisconsin football coach for seven years and five games, moving the program forward by winning 34 of his first 41 games.

There was since a dip that was bookended with listless performances in a 52-21 loss at Ohio State followed by a 34-10 drubbing by Illinois, led by Chryst's former boss Bret Bielema. That was enough for athletic director Chris McIntosh to fire Chryst on Sunday.

Chryst's tenure finished with a 67-26 record and 43-18 in the Big Ten. It included three West Division titles and Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl appearances. Former walk-on Jim Leonhard, who Chryst hired, was named interim coach for the remainder of the season.

Here are six things we learned Sunday about Chryst's firing.

1. Reversal of action? 

University of Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh delivers his opening statement, discussing the dismissal of football coach Paul Chryst Sunday in Camp Randal Stadium.

About 96 hours before termination, McIntosh left little belief that Chryst's seat was warm. In an exclusive state-of-the-program interview with BadgerExtra columnist Jim Polzin, McIntosh discussed past ruts over the last 25 years of Badgers football and how the program climbed out of them.

McIntosh told Polzin on Sunday evening in a telephone conversation that it wasn't a "game-by-game decision" and that it was "too big of a decision for it to be that."

2. 'Championship program'

New Wisconsin interim football coach Jim Leonhard delivers opening remarks of Sunday night's press conference inside Camp Randall Stadium after the dismissal of Paul Chryst.

So what changed? McIntosh gave little reasoning into why Chryst was fired. 

“The expectations of our program at Wisconsin are to win championships, and I felt it was the right time to make a change to pursue those,” McIntosh said at Sunday's news conference.

But he offered no details on why Chryst wasn't the man to lead Wisconsin going forward, instead commenting "holistically" on the program.

3. Day of meetings

Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard discusses what lies ahead with the programs and the emotions of players, along with his own feelings of his new role.

McIntosh said that he and Chryst had a "long" meeting that morning. The end result was Chryst's firing, but the meetings didn't stop there.

McIntosh, Leonhard and Chryst, a Madison native who quarterbacked the Badgers in the 1980s, held a closed-door meeting with "everybody in the program" to address the coaching change. 

4. Hefty price

University of Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh answers questions from reporters Sunday inside Camp Randall Stadium regarding the reason to name Jim Leonhard interim coach and dismiss Paul Chryst, Chryst's buyout dollar amount, and how the players were informed of the news.

UW and Chryst reworked his contract in 2019 for a buyout that would amount to nearly 85% of the remaining balance on his contract. That total would exceed eight figures.

But McIntosh said that a negotiated deal with Chryst had been reached for a smaller sum. McIntosh did not disclose that amount.

5. Fit to lead

Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh discusses the 'fit' of interim coach Jim Leonhard, along with his 'competitiveness,' 'ability to lead' and teach Sunday inside Camp Randall Stadium. He also answers questions about how long has the evaluation of the program has been on his mind and on a potential coaching search. Leonhard also comments on any potential changes with staff.

It's been more than two decades since Leonhard enrolled at UW as a walk-on. The Flambeau High grad took a chance and developed into a three-time All-American before a 10-year NFL career as an undrafted free agent.

He now takes the big whistle from his former boss. He served as an assistant under Chryst in 2016 and eventually became defensive coordinator.

Leonhard embodies the program with his playing and coaching journey and called the opportunity "a dream for myself." McIntosh said that he is confident in Leonhard's ability to lead in what amounts to a seven-game tryout to remove the interim tag.

6. Popular with players

It's clear that Chryst was a favorite among current and former players. Of course he was a big part of their recruitments and why they came to UW.

Players and incoming recruits have discussed the "family atmosphere" after visiting Madison.

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Aaron joined Lee Sports Wisconsin as deputy editor in May 2022. He previously worked at the Peoria Journal Star and Times of Northwest Indiana. Aaron is a passionate sports fan, enjoys traveling and is an advocate for those with Angelman Syndrome.

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