Barely recruited out of Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis., Chryst saw enough in Stave to convince to him to walk-on with the Badgers over a scholarship offer from Western Michigan. It’s a decision that has netted the Badgers’ 20 wins in Stave’s 27 starts over the last three seasons.
“I thought he was a tremendous coach,” said Stave. “I thought he did a very good job handling the offense, handling the quarterbacks and everything like that. I really enjoyed playing for him.”
Much like Chryst, Stave came full circle on Wednesday when Chryst was announced as the 30th head coach in Wisconsin football history in front of a standing room crowd at the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion on the school’s campus.
A former quarterback and offensive coordinator for his hometown school, Chryst, 49, had spent the last three years getting his head coaching experience at Pittsburgh, trying to stabilize a program in turmoil that has now gone through seven head or interim coaches since 2010.
Chryst felt he was making good progress, leading the Panthers to a 19-19 record and three straight bowl games, but couldn’t turn down an opportunity to come back to a school and an area that means so much to his family.
“It kind of dawned on me, my son Danny was applying to colleges and we were filling out his application for Wisconsin,” said Chryst. “One of the questions is why do you want to come to Wisconsin, and as we were going through it, it dawned on me that there was a spirit that is undeniable here. For us to be a part of that is something that you truly don't take for granted and couldn't be more fortunate.”
Chryst’s offensive reputation precedes himself. An offensive coordinator for the last 10-plus years at both the college and NFL level, Chryst has proven that his offense works and can be multiple.
With the pocket-passing Scott Tolzien at the helm in 2010, UW averaged more than 40.0 points a game for the first time in school history, ranking fifth in the country with 41.5 points per contest, to help lead them to its first Big Ten title since 1999.
The next season Wisconsin went to the dual-threat Russell Wilson, who set the FBS record for pass efficiency (191.8) while setting school records for passing yards (3,175) and passing touchdowns (33). With tailback Montee Ball scoring 39 touchdowns that season, the Badgers averaged 44.1 points per game, sixth-best in the country.
That last tidbit certainly caught the attention of soon-to-be junior tailback Corey Clement, who was at one time committed to Chryst and Pittsburgh before flipping to Wisconsin.
“I’m very familiar with his style of offense, how he treats his players and what he looks for each season,” said Clement. “I wasn’t too shocked having him as a coach. I was more happy and anxious to have him here.”
In Chryst’s seven years as an offensive coordinator, Wisconsin compiled a 70-22 (.761) record, winning at least 10 games five times, and his offenses are responsible for six of the top 10 total offense seasons, in school history.
“I knew the kind of coach he was from my experience with him,” said Stave. “Having him as an offensive coordinator and a quarterback coach, I got a chance to know him as a position coach and a coordinator, and I thought he did a tremendous job … He’s a hard-working guy; a very hard-nosed kind of guy. I think he fits the program really well, and I think that has to do with as many years he’s spent here. He understands this program.”
Even without the same kind of talent, Chryst still made things work in Pittsburgh. He had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same year for the first time in school history in 2012, developed quarterback Tom Savage into a NFL fourth-round draft pick threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns last year and boasted one of the top rushing offenses in the country this season, ranking 15th in the nation by averaging 251.3 yards per game on the ground.
In his three seasons, Pitt improved from 83rd in the country in scoring offense (24.3 ppg.) the year before he arrived to 47th (31.7 ppg.) this season.
“I think it's most important that you have to have a foundation,” said Chryst. “You have to have a system. Kids have to know what the base of the schematics are. But I learned that you also have to adjust and play to the strengths of your players, and I think that's what coaching is. It's to have stability in a program.”
Stability has been the farthest thing from Wisconsin football the last three years. After two decades of consistency and peaceful transition in the head coaching office, Alvarez has seen two football coaches bolt for lesser-known jobs because they had a problem with the assistant’s pay pool or the school’s strict academic requirements.
That won’t be a problem for Chryst, who is prepared to set down deep roots in Madison and build a winner.
“I think that there's an identity to this university and to this program,” said Chryst. “It's built on toughness. It's physically and mentally tough. We talk all the time to the players about being smart, tough, dependable. That is the type of team that we want to have.
“As great a day as today is, and it is, it's a great day, I also don't want it to be the best day. That's where I'm proud and looking forward to going to work and being with this group of players as we add on players to this and to truly do something special with a group of men, something that those players can be proud of, something the University can be proud of, the city can be proud of and the State can be proud of.”
That’s especially welcomed news to the players, who are ready to have a plan and stick with it.
“There’s been a decent amount of turnover since I’ve been here,” said Stave. “Right before I got here the coaching was very stable for a number of years…Just having a guy who wants to be here and looking to be here for a long time will be good for the program.”