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

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Wisconsin has a coaching vacancy after eighth-year coach Paul Chryst was fired five games into the season, it immediately becomes one of the most attractive vacancies in college football. Once a Big Ten doormat, Wisconsin has transformed into a Midwestern power in recent decades. From Barry Alvarez’s inaugural season in 1990, through Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and now Chryst, Wisconsin has won six Big Ten titles and played 27 bowl games, including seven Rose Bowls.

While the state of Ohio and Michigan have dominated the Big Ten throughout history, Wisconsin has emerged as the power of the conference’s western division and one of its most important programs. It’s a job that doesn’t open very often. Given the history and money pouring into the athletics department thanks to the Big Ten’s latest television deal, this is the kind of job that could pull incumbent Power Five coaches away.

So who will be the Badgers’ next coach? Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard seems to be a clear favorite, and he’s getting some sort of seven-game tryout in between, but he’s not guaranteed anything. Here is a short list of names that may spark interest.

Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin Defense Coordinator/Interim Coach: I really think this is Leonhard’s job to lose. He has been seen as a coach-in-waiting with the Badgers for some time, although most expected his wait to be a little longer. Still, Leonhard has in the past sparked interest from other Power Five jobs — including a few Big Ten appearances — and felt he was more interested in waiting for the job in Wisconsin. Now he gets his chance.

Lance Leipold, Kansas coach: Leipold has done an amazing job of turning a Buffalo program with little history into one that competes for MAC titles, and he already has Kansas in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009 in his sophomore season there. But before Leipold did all that, he led Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater to six national titles while going 109-6 in eight seasons. Leipold is a Wisconsin native, and it’s thought that one of the reasons Wisconsin got in on Chryst so early was because it wanted to attack Leipold before Nebraska could — or before Kansas could lock him up with a new deal. If it’s not Leonhard, I’d pick Leipold as the most likely candidate.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State Coach: Some wonder if Campbell waited too long to make the jump out of the state of Iowa. That, of course, assumes that he once intended to jump. While the Cyclones are just 10-8 and playing 5-6 in the Big 12 since the start of 2021, it’s hard to overlook how well he’s done in one of the country’s most challenging Power Five programs. If Campbell decides Wisconsin is the place to be, you have to think he would win a lot of games there too.

Dave Aranda, Baylor coach: Gary Andersen didn’t get much right during his short tenure as a Wisconsin coach, but he managed to hire his defensive coordinator. Aranda spent three seasons leading the Badgers defense before moving to 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 from California and has coached all over the country. When Wisconsin called, he should listen.

Sean Lewis, Kent State Coach: This would be a departure from what Wisconsin used to be, but it’s about time Lewis started getting Big Ten consideration. Lewis’ Kent State teams have consistently produced up-tempo, high-scoring fouls. The Golden Flashes took 22 points against Georgia two weeks ago and, after playing one of the toughest non-conference fixtures in the world, opened conference play with a 31-24 win over Ohio. Like Leonhard, Lewis is a Wisconsin alum as a former tight end for the Badgers.

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

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: Rhule’s NFL hiring didn’t go well, and Carolina Panthers fans would probably pay for his plane ticket to Madison, but Wisconsin fans shouldn’t worry about that. Many good college coaches have flopped in the NFL, returned and won many games. That Nick Saban guy comes to mind. Anyway, Rhule won more games at Temple than anyone should — he went 20-7 in the 2015 and 2016 seasons — then quickly flipped a Baylor program fresh from the depths of the Art Briles fallout . I have no doubt that he would win at Madison as well.

Chris Petersen, Fox Analyst: Something of an out-of-the-box idea, 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 into America’s favorite Cinderella story. He then won two Pac-12 titles and reached the College Football Playoff in his six seasons in Washington, 55-26. If he wants to start coaching again, Wisconsin seems like a great place for him to do so.

Dan Mullen, ESPN analyst: Mullen’s time in Florida didn’t go as well as hoped, but he’s still a good attacking spirit. He proved with his time at Mississippi State that he is also a pretty good head coach. Although he rose to fame as a coach in the SEC, Mullen is from Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time in the Midwest and Northeast, so coaching in Wisconsin wouldn’t be like coaching in a foreign country. I wonder how his offense would play out in a cold weather environment like Wisconsin. Plus, I enjoy him on television, so maybe I shouldn’t even include him?


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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