Badgers' offensive success boosts his stock for potential head college job or NFL post
MADISON, Wisc. - Paul Chryst admits it will be strange Saturday when he looks across the field and sees the orange and black of Oregon State.
Wisconsin's offensive coordinator is eminently familiar with the Beavers, for whom he coached twin two-year stints under Mike Riley - 1997-98 and 2003-04.
'It WILL be kind of weird, because of the history,' says Chryst, 45, in his seventh year as O-coordinator for one of the nation's most potent attacks. 'That's the team that, for four years, my family was watching and cheering for. Those were special years.'
Riley and Chryst remain the closest of friends, and Chryst has maintained a friendship with mainstays on the OSU staff from his days there, including Mark Banker, Bruce Read and Danny Langsdorf.
Even so, there will be no division of loyalty Saturday. Chryst is a full-fledged Badger.
'Two things will help,' he says. 'I'm not playing against Banks or Mike or Bruce or Danny. Our players are playing Oregon State's players. So you want to make sure you're doing all you can in the course of the week to give your players a chance for success.
'Also, while Mike is close to me personally and I love seeing him, it's not like you're going on vacation together. We're playing a game, and we're on different sides now.'
Chryst's Wisconsin roots run deep. He played there - as a quarterback and tight end. So did his late father, George, who was also once an assistant coach with the Badgers. Paul had coached there for one season, 2002, after Riley was fired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Additionally, Paul's mother still lives in Madison, as do the parents of his wife, Robin. When Barry Alvarez offered him the O-coordinator job with the Badgers after the 2004 season, it was like coming home for the Chrysts and their three children.
'Our kids were of an age where we were concerned they might not get to know their grandparents,' Paul says. 'And a little bit of it was that I had done so much with Mike, I wanted to see if I could do it on my own.'
Riley and Chryst weren't joined at the hip through a 15-year period beginning in 1991, but it almost seemed that way. They worked together for 11 years in four different stops - two at Oregon State.
It started after Riley was named head coach of the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football. The WLAF draft was held in February 1991 at Orlando, and Paul and older brother Geep - young coaches looking for job - drove from Wisconsin to shake hands and try to procure employment.
One of the head coaches the Chrysts met was Riley, who was impressed. Geep landed a job coaching wide receivers with the Orlando Thunder, and two weeks later, Riley offered Paul a spot on his staff.
'The biggest break of my career,' Chryst says.
Riley and Chryst spent two years in San Antonio before the spring league folded. Riley became offensive coordinator at Southern Cal; Chryst bounced around from stop to stop for the next four years.
In 1997, Riley was hired at Oregon State and brought on Chryst as his offensive coordinator. When Riley left for the Chargers, Chryst went along as tight ends coach. After being fired following the 2001 season, Riley spent a year as assistant head coach with the New Orleans Saints and Chryst coached tight ends at Wisconsin.
When Riley returned to Corvallis in 2003, Chryst came back, too. By then, they had honed a pro-style attack that, behind QB Derek Anderson, ranked sixth nationally in passing yardage. The '03 Beavers were the first team in Division I history to have a 4,000-yard passer (Anderson), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (James Newson and Mike Hass).
'I enjoyed the people I worked with at Oregon State, and I absolutely loved the players I got to work with,' Chryst says. 'My wife keeps in touch with people we knew in Corvallis. Some of my closest friends are still on the staff, and I stay in touch with a lot of the players I had there.'
After the 2004 season, though, Alvarez's offer was too good for Chryst to pass up. A year later, Bret Bielema took over for Alvarez and retained Chryst as his O-coordinator. The Badgers are 50-16 since then.
Chryst's offense was an immediate success. The 2005 team set school season records for scoring average (34.3) and passing yardage. Through the years since, the Badgers have led the Big Ten in total offense, passing offense and rushing offense multiple times. Last year was the zenith - a school-record 41.5 points per game, including 45.2 against Big Ten competition. Three times, they scored 70 points or more. All on the way to the conference championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
It's no coincidence the Oregon State and Wisconsin offenses share similar traits.
'You're impacted by everyone you work with,' Chryst says, 'but the majority of my coaching philosophy is directly from Mike.
'We both have done pretty well with an offense that takes advantage of the personnel we have. Of course, we have different types of players. So right now there are some similarities, but very different offenses.'
For five years, Riley and Chryst enjoyed a four- or five-day retreat every summer at the home Riley retains along the Guadalupe River outside of San Antonio. They'd watch game video and talk coaching.
'Football, football, football,' Chryst says. 'That's it. It's fun.'
It didn't happen this past summer because of health issues in Riley's family, but the OSU coach truly enjoys his time with his former colleague.
'It's the only time of the year where I can get away and refresh myself and put together some ideas for the upcoming season,' Riley says. 'And there's nobody I'd rather do it with than Paul. I respect and admire him so much.'
Chryst has the same feelings.
'Mike gave me my first opportunity,' he says. 'And since then, he has been the guy who has meant the most to me, both professionally and personally, aside from anyone in my family. He has had the biggest impact on my life. He has been a big part of every part of my career.'
Chryst and Riley both have laid-back personalities and coaching styles, but they also share a trait for rare football acumen.
'Mike is as good a person as there is,' Chryst says. 'He loves football and has a great mind for the game. I've learned a lot about how to approach coaching from Mike. It all stems from him being a tremendous person. That combination draws you to him.'
The Badgers, ranked eighth this season, appear to be a powerhouse capable of reaching the BCS championship game for the first time. You won't hear Chryst say it.
'We haven't done it,' he says. 'I like the pieces we have, but until you've done something, I'm not going to talk about it.'
There is plenty of interest in Chryst around the country. Last year, he turned down a pair of NFL assistant coaching jobs and interviewed for the Minnesota and Pittsburgh head jobs on the college level. He has stayed put in part to allow his children some continuity with friends and school after so many moves through their early years.
Even so, Chryst admits to ambition to run his own program.
'I think, yeah, I'd love the opportunity,' he says. 'I'd have to feel it's the right situation. If it were the right fit, I'd feel confident.
'But I'm also not one who doesn't feel complete by not having the name 'head coach' by you.'