Wisconsin head football coach Paul Chryst announced Tuesday that John Settle, who spent last season coaching running backs at Pitt under Chryst, is returning for his second tour of duty with the Badgers as the team’s running back coach. Settle, 49, previously spent five seasons (2006-10) as the running backs coach at UW when Chryst served as offensive coordinator.
Settle, who was not retained by new Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi, replaces Thomas Brown. After being retained by Chryst from former head coach Gary Andersen’s staff, Brown accepted the running back position at Georgia, his alma mater, Feb.16.
Settle coached four of the top 10 rushers in school history – P.J. Hill, John Clay, Montee Ball and James White. Settle's best work at UW came in 2010, when Ball, Clay and White combined to rush for 3,060 yards and 46 touchdowns as Wisconsin won a share of the Big Ten championship and advanced to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1999.
Ball finished four yards shy of going over 1,000 yards that season, which would have made the Badgers the first team in FBS history to have three different running backs rush for at least 1,000 yards in the same season. UW averaged 245.7 rushing yards per game in Settle’s last season.
“Coach Settle was a big part of why I chose to go to Wisconsin,” Ball said in a statement. “He came to my house and my family loved him. He really spoke highly of the education available at Wisconsin and the success of the athletic program and it was something he believed in. One thing I really enjoyed about him was how easy he was to talk to both on and off the field. He's a great fit for the university and I'm really excited to see that he's coming back."
Ball would go on to rush for 5,140 yards as a Badger (second-best in school history), win the Doak Walker Award and be named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. White's 4,015 yards rank fifth in school history while Hill is sixth with 3,942 and Clay is 10th at 3,413.
Under Settle’s watch, Hill won Big Ten Freshman of the Year after leading the Big Ten and finishing fifth in the country with 1,569 rushing yards. Hill would go on to become just the third running back in school history to go over 1,000 yards in three different seasons, joining Ron Dayne and Billy Marek.
In 2008, behind the tandem of Hill and freshman Clay (2,045 yards between them), Wisconsin led the Big Ten in rushing offense. When Clay became the featured back in 2009, he flourished, winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, leading the Big Ten and ranking eighth in the country with 1,517 yards. The Badgers again led the conference in rushing offense.
”What I remember most about Coach Settle is that he treated us all like men,” Clay said in the release. “He didn't babysit us but he held us accountable for making the right choices on and off the field. He was almost like a father figure to us that way. When he was recruiting me, I remember him coming to my high school, watching my track meets and he had a great charisma that would just make everyone around him smile. When he was looking at some other jobs, I remember telling him that if he left, I was going to leave too because I didn't want to be coached by anyone else. That was how much I believed in him as a coach.”
In addition to those four tailbacks, each of whom played in the NFL, Settle coached two fullbacks who have gone on to play on Sundays. Chris Pressley played five seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Bradie Ewing was taken in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2012 and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Coach Settle played a key role in my choice to attend the University of Wisconsin,” said Ewing. “He has always demonstrated that he is a great man of character and faith, along with what he can do as a football coach with his teaching ability and proven development of his players. Through my years with Coach Settle, he grew into someone I looked up to on and off the field for advice and guidance. He is a great fit for Wisconsin and it will be good to see him back on the Badgers' sideline again."
After leaving UW, Settle coached for three seasons in the NFL, two with the Carolina Panthers (2011-12) and one with the Cleveland Browns (2013). Carolina made NFL history in 2011, becoming the first team to feature three 700-yard rushers. DeAngelo Williams (836), Jonathan Stewart (761) and Cam Newton (706) each reached the mark, helping the Panthers average a franchise-record 5.4 yards per carry.
In his one season at Pitt, Settle helped running back James Connor earn ACC Player of the Year honors as he led the league and ranked sixth in the country, averaging 135.8 yards per game on the ground. His 26 rushing TDs were good for third-best in the country and bested both Tony Dorsett's school record and the all-time ACC mark.
Prior to his first stint at Wisconsin, Settle coached running backs at Fresno State (1998-2005) and Appalachian State (1994), as well as serving as an offensive assistant and special teams quality control coach with the Browns (1995) and Baltimore Ravens (1996-97).
As a collegian at Appalachian State, Settle rushed for a school-record 4,409 yards and 43 touchdowns from 1983-86. His senior year, he compiled 1,661 rushing yards with 20 TDs and was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. Appalachian State retired his No. 23 jersey in 1994.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons in 1987, Settle played six NFL seasons (1987-90 with Atlanta and 1991-92 with the Washington Redskins). He was named to the 1988 Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,024 yards, becoming the first undrafted player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to reach that rushing milestone. Settle was also a member of the Redskins' Super Bowl XXVI championship team.
”Coach Settle was definitely a big reason why I chose Wisconsin,” said White. “When he was in my house, he felt like a part of the family. He was very personable and down to earth. I had seen what he had done with guys like P.J. Hill, John Clay and Montee and knew he was a great coach. He's very demanding on the field and expects the most out of his players. In my opinion, he's the best fit for the job.”