Friends Now Foes

First crossing paths on West Virginia's 1989 team, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst remain friends 19 years after they first exchanged offensive philosophies and jump shots, although the method to their madness has changed over the years.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Paul Chryst has never been mistaken for a coddler. The Wisconsin offensive coordinator will always forego the sugar coating, not afraid to tell anyone what he really thinks of the performance of his offense.

Ask him any question and you'll get the honest answer.

Have you been happy with the progression of Allan Evridge?

"He's got to be a lot better if we're going to win these next games," he said.

What are some of the factors that have led to your offensive line giving up no sacks on the season?

"Throwing 10 times against Akron," blatantly said.

What are your running backs giving this offense besides their five yards per carry average?

"They've been good but they can be better because they are leaving yards on the field," he muttered.

That's Paul Chryst in a nutshell. Always wanting more from his offense and never settling for complacency until he gets 100 percent from all his players. One area where Wisconsin hasn't gotten that production has been in the red zone.

Through three games, UW has converted 14 of 17 red-zone chances (82 percent); a mark that puts UW seventh in the conference. After two turnovers in the red zone in week one, Wisconsin failed on fourth-and-one from the one and other missed opportunities that have made Chryst turn a shade of red.

"I don't think we've been very good in the red zone," he said. "We've got to be better. You can't have mistakes down there and that is what's been getting us."

But ask Chryst about certain areas of the past with former colleague Rich Rodriguez and that edge turns into laughter.

The duo have known each other since 1989, when Rodriguez was a volunteer assistant and Chryst a graduate assistant on coach Don Nehlen's staff at West Virginia. The pair, in addition to discussing offensive philosophies, played on an intramural basketball team together.

"Rich is a good guy and a lot of fun," he said. "We had a great basketball team. He was Jimmy Chitwood. My job was just to feed it to him and he could knock it down."

The best memory, according to Chryst, was when their intramural basketball team played the graduate assistants in a ‘big championship,' according to him … although the outcome of the game is a little fuzzy.

"I'm going to say for the record that we won but I can't remember for sure," he said. "When in doubt, go with that."

When Rodriguez was hired to replace Lloyd Carr at Michigan, one of the first people head coach Bret Bielema sought out to get an opinion from was Chryst; seeing if that hiring was good for the Badgers. The response Bielema received from Chryst was what he expected, a ‘No.'

"He's a heck of a person," Chryst said of Rodriguez. "I am really happy to see what he's done. He's one of those guys that has earned it. I've got a lot of respect for Rich and who he is as a coach. For whatever struggles people are saying about his team, he's a good coach and we all know that when you go out recruiting, Michigan is going to get good players."

While Chryst and Rodriguez shared many an offensive conversation, their offenses have become stark contrasts. While Chryst uses the pro-style set that is committed to the run game, Rodriguez is part of the new era of college football by running the spread offense.

While Chryst is in his fourth season at Wisconsin developing the offense (an averaging 31.2 ppg in his tenure), Rodriguez has suffered growing pains at Michigan, trying to bring the spread to a school that had always been known for a traditional offense.

"Paul is obviously a very smart guy; he's been around the game a long time," Rodriguez said. "I've always admired not only his creativity and attention to detail but also how he gets guys to play at a high level and buy into completely what he's trying to get the guys to buy into fundamentally and scheme-wise. As good as a coach Paul is, he's an even better person."

While the two share a good friendship and history, don't expect Chryst to give any favors tomorrow. While Rodriguez is demanding relative execution from his unit, Chryst is demanding perfection from his offense and hopes to take the next step toward that mark against his former buddy.

"I'm excited for all the success he's had," Rodriguez said. "I'm hoping he'll take it easy on me on Saturday."


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