Nov. 17, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- On most weeks, UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will talk on the telephone with three confidants outside of the Badger football program. He’ll call them. Or they’ll call him.
There’s no protocol, no pretense, no phony-baloney among these friends who are willing to bounce things off each other and listen, always a virtue.
“I feel comfortable with them but we’re not necessarily exchanging ideas,” Chryst said. “You’ll always cover something – something always comes out of it; but it’s not necessarily with a check list.
“Sometimes it can be a question, ‘We’re doing this … any advice?’ It really varies.”
From week to week, from friend to friend.
On most weeks, Paul Chryst will talk with his brother Jeep Chryst, now in his fourth season as the tight ends coach for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League.
“He watches every one of our games on tape,” Paul said. “He has a pulse for it, and he knows me well enough that he can give me knowledgeable observations from afar.”
On most weeks, Paul Chryst will talk with Jim Hueber, the former Badger offensive line coach, who has 36 years of coaching experience, including his latest tenure with the Minnesota Vikings.
“We’ll talk about a mix of things,” said Chryst, who has stayed away from asking leading questions about Brett Favre or Brad Childress. “I’m not trying to rewrite the National Enquirer or Star.”
Chryst chuckled. “But he’s in the middle of it,” he said.
On most weeks, Paul Chryst will talk with Mike Riley, a longtime mentor, who’s in the midst of his second tour of duty at Oregon State. Chryst has come under Riley’s wing at multiple stops, ranging from the World League of American Football to the San Diego Chargers to Oregon State (twice).
“Our conversations are probably more technical,” Chryst said of Riley’s influence. “It might be, ‘This is what we’re getting (schematically) … is there anything you’ve done in the past (against it).’”
While the Badgers and Chryst are fielding questions this week about scoring too many points, Riley, Hueber and Jeep Chryst are coming off losses where their teams didn’t score enough.
Tampa Bay beat Carolina, 31-16.
The Bears beat the Vikings, 27-13.
Washington State beat Oregon State, 31-14.
Chryst, by contrast, watched the Badgers score 83 points. “We were able to take advantage of every opportunity – that’s what you want your guys to do,” he said. “The object on offense is to score.”
That has been a constant in his play-calling. But the rules have not always been the same. During his stint as an assistant coach in the Canadian Football League, there were only 20 seconds to work with between snaps (as opposed to the 40-second play clock in the NFL and college football).
That’s where he developed his respect for a clean and efficient line of communication from the press box to the sidelines to the offensive huddle. He has never called plays from the field level.
“There are only a couple of key calls that you’ll make in the game,” Chryst said. “Other than that, if you’ve set your (game) plan, it should handle all situations or (defensive) looks.”
His overall philosophy has been shaped by a number of people, including Norv Turner, who was the offensive coordinator with the Chargers when Chryst coached the tight ends for Riley.
How would Chryst define Wisconsin’s offense? West Coast? A hybrid?
“Players define it,” he said. “I’d never want to put a label on it. Everyone on the staff is a product of their experiences, so it’s certainly not just me (shaping the decision-making). A really good offense takes on the personality of the players in it.”
UW head coach Bret Bielema is on the same page.
“Paul puts together a plan with a group of coaches that really believe in what they’re doing,” Bielema said, “and it’s done 365 days a year. The most gratifying thing to me Saturday was when the 2’s went in and did what they did – the same with the 3’s – the same with your fifth-string quarterback and fifth-string tailback. So it’s not a one-string thing. It’s a program thing. That jumps out.”
Bielema had a flashback to a spring practice and a red zone scrimmage against the offense and Chryst. “I had been playing our base defense,” said Bielema, then the defensive coordinator, “and they beat the living snot out of us. He really has an uncanny way of scheming things down there.”
In sum, Bielema said, “It’s not by chance that this offensive clicks.”
On his very first coaching assignment, Chryst became friends with an innovative young coach who would become one of the pioneers of the no-huddle, spread attack. His name?
Rich Rodriguez, who’s now completing his third season at Michigan.
Following his senior year (1988) at Wisconsin, Chryst was hired as a graduate assistant on Don Nehlen’s staff at the University of West Virginia. Rodriguez was then a volunteer assistant.
Chryst worked with the tight ends, Rodriguez worked with the linebackers.
Both worked for the love the game.
“Don’t remember what I was getting paid,” Chryst said. “I do remember if you went out to eat, you got water with your meal because you couldn’t afford anything else.”
He knew something else. “I knew I really wanted to pursue coaching,” he said. “And I knew nothing bad would come from this experience (at West Virginia).
“That’s when you start saying, ‘I can really see doing this (for a career).’ The biggest thing for young coaches is just staying alive long enough in the business to get some breaks.”
Chryst left the Mountaineers to take a full-time job was with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football, a spring developmental league which also had franchises in Spain, Germany and England. The WLAF suspended operations after two seasons.
That’s where Chryst crossed paths with Riley, the head coach of the Riders. Jason Garrett, now the acting head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was also a member of that staff in San Antonio.
After the league folded, Chryst took over as the offensive coordinator at UW-Platteville, where his late father, George, had been the head coach. That was his first exposure to calling his own game.
What’s the most important thing he learned? “Don’t call a God-awful play,” he said.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, had stops at Glenville State as a head coach, and Tulane and Clemson as an offensive coordinator before he took over the West Virginia program, succeeding Nehlen in 2001.
Rodriguez called Chryst and offered him a job on his staff.
But he turned it down to stay with Riley and the San Diego Chargers.
Looking back on the journey, Chryst said, “I love seeing the growth and the steps that Rich has taken as a coach.”
Surely, the feeling is mutual.