Fans of the University of Wisconsin football team got a lump of coal in their “Chryst-mas” stockings with the news this week that Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst will be leaving them after this season to assume the head coaching duties at the University of Pittsburgh.  Frankly, I’m surprised that this story is being soft-pedaled in the local media as much as it appears to be.  We’re about to find out just how good of a coach Bret Bielema really is as Chryst was at least as responsible, if not more so, for Wisconsin’s recent success than his nominal boss in Madison.

The only other surprise to this move was that it took so long.  It was inevitable that this was going to happen eventually, of course, as he had turned down numerous, sometimes more prominent, job offers to remain in Madison.  Just last year, it was reported that Chryst declined an opportunity to join the Texas Longhorns as their O/C under Mack Brown and there were also rumors of feelers from the NFL.   It remains to be seen how Chryst will fare in Pittsburgh but, as an offensive coordintor, he was with very few peers at the college or even the pro level. The best thing that can be said for any coach is that he puts his players in a position to be successful.  Chryst consistently excelled at that.

Make no mistake, this is a serious blow to Wisconsin’s football program.   At the major college level, recruiting is king.  Not only was Chryst very good at his job but his presence had the effect of making Wisconsin a more attractive destination to recruits.  Wisconsin, traditionally known for offensive linemen and running backs, nonetheless has sent a number of quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends to the National Football League.  Chances are, current quarterback Russell Wilson would never have landed in Madison if Chryst wasn’t already there.  It’s no coincidence that another ‘Crist’, Notre Dame QB Dayne who is transferring out of South Bend, decided to join former ND coach Charlie Weis at Kansas rather than follow Wilson at UW soon after Paul Chryst announced his decision to accept the Panther job.  And, while the odds are against it anyway, Chryst’s departure might also be enough to tip the scales in Heisman hopeful running back Montee Ball’s decision whether to return to Wisconsin for his senior year.

Chryst’s exodus is just as likely to create fallout among the coaching staff.  According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it’s possible that offensive line coach Bob Bostad and tight ends coach Joe Rudolph, who have worked closely with Chryst, will join him in Pittsburgh.  Bielema has already indicated that he will promote one of them to succeed Chryst as offensive coordinator should at least one remain, but that he will have to go outside the program to find a quarterback coach.  Bielema has already replaced 8 assistants during his tenure as the Badgers’ head coach so he is no stranger to staff changes.  But it’s fair to say that he’s never had to replace a coach of Chryst’s caliber.

The timing is hardly ideal for the Badgers, either.  With Nebraska joining the Big(12)Ten this past season and former Florida coach Urban Meyer taking over the Ohio State program next year, the conference figures to get even tougher.  The Badgers have no shortage of candidates to supplant Wilson at QB, but there is no line of succession as none of them are established.  It would have helped for a more seamless transition to have both Chryst and Crist around to make that happen.  At least incoming QB recruit Bart Houston from California remains committed to Wisconsin; he could very well end up starting as a true freshman.

Bret Bielema has established Wisconsin as a perennial contender in the Big(12)Ten but he’s always had the safety net of Paul Chryst, who predated him on Barry Alvarez’ staff at Wisconsin.  His next hires will have a critical impact on the direction of the Badgers program going forward.  It’s going to require some inspired selections on his part to keep them there.

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The Green Bay Packers are having to deal with something they haven’t experienced in about a year-having to rebound after losing a game.  Let’s hope they cope with that loss better than some of their fans did last week.  From the reaction I saw online after the game, you’d have thought that some of these folks had their dog shot.  There was even a police report in the Appleton area of a woman being so upset she choked her child and assaulted her husband; an incident that rival fans immediately seized upon as an opportunity to paint Packers’ fans with a broad brush as ‘crazy’.

Clearly, the Packers have some issues with which to contend.  Their offensive line has been shredded by injuries to three starters.  After last week, there are questions in the minds of some whether the receiving corps is as good as previously believed before the absence of Greg Jennings.  The defense, also hit hard by injury, has been porous all season long and last week we found out the result when they fail to generate a pass rush and/or turnovers.  The major difference this season as opposed to last is that they’re enduring many of their injuries late in the year without having much time to adjust before the playoffs.

But other teams that underestimate the Green Bay Packers do so at their own peril.  This team is still the class of the NFC, if not the entire league.  For the last year and a half, they’ve demonstrated their resiliency time and time again.  Yes, the Packers face some challenges ahead and there’s a tendency to wonder whether the injuries will reach critical mass at some point.  But, that being said, there is also no reason to believe that the Packers are suddenly going to go away without a fight.

As someone who has been around a long time, I have one other piece of advice for my fellow Packers’ fans:  What we’re witnessing with this team is something special and doesn’t occur regularly.  Savor the moment and don’t take it for granted.

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RANDOM SAMPLINGS:  The Milwaukee Brewers have already surpassed the 1 million mark in tickets sold for next season.  Apparently, the impending departure of Prince Fielder and possible suspsension of Ryan Braun hasn’t had too much of a dampening effect on fans’ enthusiasm………..The Brewers may have shored up their bench by signing infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract this week.  If nothing else, the Brewers have probably improved their defense in the offseason; of course, it had nowhere to go but up.  In other news, the Brewers flagship station, WTMJ, hired KABC’s Joe Block to work with the legendary Bob Uecker on the Brewers’ radio broadcasts this season.  Block has a similar background to the man he replaces, Cory Provus, who left Milwaukee to handle play by play for the Minnesota Twins.  Both previously worked as studio hosts before coming to Milwaukee, Provus for the Cubs and Block for the L.A. Dodgers.  Wisconsin has fortunately been blessed down through the years with competent, if not exceptional broadcasters.  Hopefully, Block can add to that legacy………..The Wisconsin Badgers basketball team concluded their nonconference schedule with a rout of Mississippi Valley State on Friday afternoon.  UW heads into Big(12)Ten play at Nebraska with an 11-2 record, but there is one uncharacteristic area of concern.  The Badgers, who shot almost 80% as a team last year from the free throw line, are currently under 70% from the charity stripe so far this year.  That is a statistic that could come to haunt them down the road.  And, speaking of the Badgers, who have often been criticized for their style of play, they recieved some kind words from CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish (  http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/story/16569011/these-coaches-could-sure-use-these-gifts-from-santa-this-christmas  ).  It’s nice to see that at least one member of the national media “gets it” when it comes to Wisconsin under Bo Ryan……….After all the angst about the NBA lockout, there doesn’t seem to be any drag on salaries in Chicago, where the Bulls have signed point guard Derek Rose to a $94 million extension and ancient Rip Hamilton to a 3-year, $15 million contract………..USC quarterback Matt Barkley made Trojans fans happy by deciding to return to school, but it remains to be seen whether that was a wise business decision.  For his sake, I hope he doesn’t end up like former ‘SC QB Matt Leinart………….The Indianapolis Colts suddenly are possessor’s of a two game winning streak and, with an upcoming game against the Jaguars, stand a real chance of screwing up their position in the Suck for (Andrew) Luck Sweepstakes.  Quite frankly, that could be the best thing for them as they might be better off with Robert Griffin III.  Then it would be interesting to see whether the Minnesota Vikings would pass on Luck after supposedly already being committed to last year’s first round draft pick, Christian Ponder, at quarterback……….The Marquette Warr, er, Golden Eagles completed the “state sweep” of Wisconsin’s Division I basketball teams by defeating UWM this week.  The UW-GB women’s team has a chance to pull off a similar feat if they can beat their conference rival Panthers on January 7.  Props to both of those programs.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.  GO PACK!!!

 

 

 

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  • Chris

    Pitt was smart to embark upon a Campus Crusade for Chryst. He might prove to be their savior, especially given how he redeemed the UW offense and resurrected a moribund passing attack. Now the Badgers must look in another direction for salvation if they are to return some day in glory to the Rose Bowl.

    As stated on the Packers Therapy podcast and elsewhere, I am not panicking because of the GB loss to KC. No, I was panicking long before that. The Packers deficiencies just came together to bite them last week. For me, the sky was falling long before the loss at KC. The real issue is their defense. It is folly to rely so heavily on one side of the ball to carry a team each week. Mix in some injuries to the OL, and suddenly you have an offense that is less than unstoppable to go with what continues to be a rather leaky defense. Not a great combination heading into the post-season.

    Finally, I am delighted to hear that over One Million tickets have been sold for the Brewers upcoming season. I can already see the tear-streaked faces of bewildered children who arrive at the park only to find no Prince, no Braun and far fewer victories.

    • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

      ….and a Merry Christmas to you.

      (Are you sure you’re not confusing Paul Chryst with Tim Tebow?)

      • http://crichar3.blogspot.com/ Chris

        It’s quite possible I am confused. I often am these days…

  • Anita

    Personally, I wish he had stayed at Wisconsin (my second team). As a Notre Dame fan first, I don’t look forward to having to playing him at Pitt. It was so much easier having to play Pitt with their parade of sucktastic coaches (for example, Wannstache).