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Wisconsin Football: Who Should the Badgers Hire to be the Next Head Coach?

Wisconsin made the surprising decision to move on from Paul Chryst.
Wisconsin Football: Paul Chryst

Every college football coaching carousel is usually good for one surprise move, and that's exactly what happened at Wisconsin on Sunday. Despite a 67-26 record and four seasons of double-digit victories, Paul Chryst was fired as the head coach of the Badgers. Although the move was a surprise, the overall direction of the program has been a concern with a 9-8 mark in Big Ten games since '20. Also, recruiting and offensive stagnation were two areas that likely prompted a change. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will work as the team's interim coach for the final seven games and is a top candidate for the job.

Related: Coaching Candidates to Replace Paul Chryst at Wisconsin

Wisconsin is the second Big Ten job to open after Nebraska moved on from Scott Frost in September. The candidate list for both jobs features a ton of overlap, but the Cornhuskers are a slightly better job. However, the Badgers will have no shortage of candidates to replace Chryst, and athletic director Chris McIntosh may already have his answer in Leonhard.

Who should Wisconsin hire to replace Chryst? Athlon's editors and contributors debate which coach is the best fit in Madison:

Wisconsin Football: Who Should the Badgers Hire to be the Next Head Coach?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think this is a two-man race for the job in Madison. Interim coach and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will get every opportunity to earn the top spot over the team's final seven games. Of course, fixing a struggling offense during the season is likely impossible, but Leonhard can help his case by showing a plan for the future or his ideas for the long haul. As a former player and successful coach at Wisconsin, this is a dream job for Leonhard and a good showing in the next two months is likely to be enough for the full-time role. However, if the Badgers aren't sold on Leonhard being ready, Lance Leipold should be the next choice. Leipold is a native of Wisconsin and has won everywhere he's coached, including at Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) and now at Kansas after inheriting a major rebuilding project. Leonhard's ties to the program are hard to pass on, but I'd hire Leipold over him for the top spot. But regardless of which one gets the call, the Badgers have good choices at a program that knows how to consistently win in the Big Ten.

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I don't agree with the timing of this move but perhaps it's because there's a certain Wisconsin native who is probably the hottest candidate out there? I'm guessing the Badgers are going to make it very hard for Lance Leipold to say no. But since he probably has his pick of jobs if he decides to go elsewhere (or stay at Kansas for that matter), I hope interim Jim Leonhard is given every opportunity to make his case. But if Wisconsin is intent on starting fresh, then Matt Campbell or Dave Aranda (if either was interested in moving on from the Big 12) make a lot of sense. I think Campbell is more likely to switch jobs at this point because he's been at Iowa State longer than Aranda has at Baylor. Campbell may be ready for a change of scenery.

Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
As funny as it would be for Wisconsin to pursue Bret Bielema, the Badgers' former head coach who beat them last week and effectively caused Chryst's firing, there's another great fit just a state away. Matt Campbell has stayed at Iowa State for longer than anyone expected, and this could be the right program to finally get him to leave. With experience recruiting the midwest and a new offensive approach that could benefit a Wisconsin program that's stalling a bit because of an offense that's stuck in the 20th century, Campbell is the coach to return the Badgers to their traditional heights.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Wisconsin should have a good number of worthy options to consider, and Baylor head coach Dave Aranda should be among the leading candidates for the job. The timing would be good for Arranda to take a new job in a more stable environment once the next wave of conference expansion takes form, although he could just as easily stay put and consistently be one of the top programs in the Big 12. As much as I think Bret Bielema would be perfect to come back to Madison, I don't think we'll get that story either. For me, the call is for Lance Leipold, who has brought Kansas football back to the Top 25 and is a household name throughout Wisconsin due to his successful career at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)
It sure seems as though this is Jim Leonhard's job to lose. Leonhard is a young coach on the rise, and perhaps the decision was made to move from Paul Chryst to Leonhard to prevent their top choice from leaving the building and going elsewhere to prosper. The remaining games on Wisconsin's schedule are against unranked opponents, and if Leonhard can demonstrate that he has righted the ship, I would believe that the Wisconsin administration would prefer to promote Leonhard from interim to permanent head coach.

Lance Leipold of Kansas will be in the mix. A Wisconsin native, Leipold could be the target of bidding wars between Nebraska and Wisconsin. The bidding war may only happen if Leonhard does not seize the opportunity that has been presented.