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College Football Hot Seat Watch: Wisconsin’s Unexpected Entry Jolts the Carousel and Latest at Auburn and Colorado

Despite going 67-26 at Wisconsin, Paul Chryst is the latest Power 5 head coach to lose his job this season
Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst

If the 2022-‘23 head coaching cycle is looked back on as some kind of sea change in the absurdity of college football finances, the Wisconsin Badgers might be considered the breaking point.

Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst on Sunday, a move that wasn’t entirely shocking (Wisconsin is 0-2 in Big Ten play, has declined gradually the last few seasons and got embarrassed by former UW head coach Bret Bielema at home), but the timing was: UW has been a model of consistency for decades, thanks in large part to former head coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez.

The sudden firing of Chryst, who accepted a lessened buyout amount this week of $11 million, means two different things for the Badgers:

  1. They want to give defensive coordinator and former UW player Jim Leonhard as much of a season as possible to prove himself as a potential permanent replacement. Leonhard is a favorite at UW, a highly respected defensive coach, and might be the future of his alma mater

  2. UW wants to get in on the Lance Leipold sweepstakes as early as possible. The red-hot Kansas coach is a Wisconsin native, and the post in Madison has been described as Leipold’s “dream job” by one industry source.

Both of these things are true right now. Ultimately the Badgers will have to make a decision to go with Leipold, who most feel would take UW over Nebraska in a heartbeat, or stick it out with a native son who might be a rising superstar coach.

Either way, Wisconsin, one of the most predictable brands in the sport, spared no time in clipping Chryst and maneuvering to play their hand in this increasingly wild coaching market.

Colorado: Karl Dorrell is the latest proof that whatever happened in the Covid-19 season of 2020 doesn’t mean much (aside from Alabama winning the national title). The Buffaloes looked surprisingly impressive under the journeyman head coach, who replaced Mel Tucker very late in the previous coaching cycle (Feb. 23) that year. But a 4-2 record in an abbreviated season was the best it ever was for CU under Dorrell, and this year the Buffs are inarguably the worst team in the Power 5.

Dorrell was fired Sunday, and now CU is faced with an existential dilemma: What is Colorado football? What does a successful version of the Buffs program look like in 2022 and beyond? Throw aside the massive questions about the Pac-12’s stability for a second and you’ll see a microcosm of the issue in Boulder. Can the Buffs make a living recruiting the Pac-12’s footprint, or would they be better off back “home” in the new-old Big 12? Colorado has succeeded with Texas players in the past.

An even scarier question is what the price tag looks like for the next Colorado head coach. With programs like Wisconsin and Nebraska indicating that money isn’t a concern thanks to a new Big Ten TV deal, where does that put a program like this one? Tucker left for Michigan State specifically because he felt that the CU program and the Pac-12 couldn’t compete at the highest of levels. How does A.D. Rick George rally a change in perception? Hint: It starts with raising a lot of money.

Auburn: Bryan Harsin’s ill-fated run on The Plains now has a signature failing on the field (blown leads) to accompany the booster circus off of it. Harsin is all but already fired entering the next two games against defending national champion Georgia and undefeated Ole Miss, but first Auburn needs to secure a new athletic director to replace the fired (he was fired) Allen Greene.

Keep an eye on Utah State’s John Hartwell, the former Troy athletic director (he hired Neal Brown) and former No. 2 at Ole Miss. Hartwell is a Mobile native with deep SEC ties and a working knowledge of the league and the state. He’s also played the game with boosters before, waiting out the disastrous push to give former USU head coach Gary Andersen a second chance. Andersen used booster friendships to regain the head coach job for the Aggies in December 2018, and when he inevitably flamed out and quit a month into his second season with a 7-9 record in 2020, Hartwell consolidated power, reset the flow chart for USU and landed Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, who guided the Aggies to a Mountain West title in his 2021 debut.

If that kind of bonafide in booster maneuvering isn’t exactly what the Tigers need, I honestly have no idea what is.

You can hear more from Steven Godfrey at Split Zone Duo, or watch his work at Secret Base. He’s on Instagram and Twitter at @38Godfrey.