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If You're A Hokie Fan, You May Want To Keep An Eye On Wisconsin

If you’re a Hokie fan and are not doing so already, you may want to keep an eye on Wisconsin.

There’s a soap opera going on up there that has already benefitted the Hokies 10 months ago, and with the Badgers unbelievably firing head coach Paul Chryst Sunday, there’s a possibility of more to come.

It seems something has been brewing up in Madison for a while if you put the pieces together. I was absolutely elated that the Hokies were able to hire Joe Rudolph away from Wisconsin at the beginning of the year, because he was the architect of their run game, particularly when it came to the development of offensive linemen in their program.

He was exactly what the Hokies needed to start the process of re-establishing an identity in Blacksburg back to the days when if Virginia Tech needed a few tough yards between the tackles, the Hokies were able to get it.

But even with Rudolph coming to Blacksburg, I privately wondered why he’d do it. Rudolph played for the Badgers, coached tight ends from 2008-2011, spent three years at Pitt (including a short stint as interim head coach) and spent the last seven years back at Wisconsin in charge of their offensive line and run game. He was a Badger through and through, much like Frank Beamer has blood type orange and maroon plus.

Based on Sunday’s developments, maybe he saw something coming before the rest of us.

He may not have been the only one. The Green Bay Packers apparently approached Wisconsin assistant defensive coach Jim Leonhard in the offseason – if you believe what is said on social media – and he turned it down. Yesterday he was named the interim head coach, suggesting he too saw what was coming and thought it was better for him to stay where he was.

I went through all sorts of media this morning, from Wisconsin newspapers to the likes of The Athletic, expecting to see some story indicating drama between Chryst, an administrator, or maybe even some minor scandal as the reason he was dismissed. I mean, since becoming head coach in 2015, his records have been 10-3, 11-3, 13-1, 8-5, 10-4, 4-3 and 9-4 before starting this season 2-3.

That’s a 67-26 record, three Big Ten West Titles, and a 6-1 record in bowls. He was also Big Ten Coach Of The Year in 2016 and 2017.

The reason most attributed for the departure? The team has gone 15-10 since 2020, and rich alumni with deep pockets apparently thought Wisconsin was drifting back to the mean instead of continuing the climb to the top. Which is kind of incredible when you consider 2020 was the year of the pandemic when the Big Ten cancelled all football, then changed its mind when the SEC and ACC decided they weren’t going to follow the narrative of masks, social distancing and vaccines.

Most teams had a hangover from that experience in 2021, and this year is really the first season you can say is back to normal – meaning back to the way things were in 2019. Which is when Chryst won the Big Ten West and went to the Rose Bowl.

His failure to adjust and adapt in those extraordinary times are apparently the reason he’s no longer the head coach in Madison.

The opportunity for the Hokies – at least in my mind – is what happens next in Wisconsin. As is always the case when these sorts of things happen, particularly with an interim coach, there’s going to be a split locker room between those loyal to the new guy and those loyal to the previous coach. Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen even tweeted out “Anyone who wanted Coach Chryst gone isn’t a part of this team” after the announcement of Chryst’s dismissal.

In addition, there’s no guarantee the new guy is really the new guy. Wisconsin is clearly using the rest of the season as a tryout for Leonhard, and even if he does well, those same rich Wisconsin alumni who grumbled enough to cause this change to be made won’t be satisfied with elevating an assistant. They’re probably going to demand more money than is currently going to Ukraine be spent to get the likes of Nick Saban to give up whatever situation they currently have and come to the land of beer and cheese.

All of this suggests unavoidable turmoil. And if you’re one of those big offensive linemen Wisconsin is famous for with one or two years of eligibility left, you may not want to deal with it. Meanwhile in Blacksburg is the coach you came to Wisconsin for – Joe Rudolph – and there’s opportunity to play immediately in a system you’re comfortable with.

The known, as is the case to many of us, is preferable to the unknown.

Then there’s Chryst himself. They just paid him $16 million to just go away and he’s only 56, 4 years older than Brent Pry. If he didn’t already, Chryst now has enough money to do what he wants to in life instead of what he has to.

And at 56, that dog still has a lot of fight left in him.

While he figures out what he wants to do next, he would make an excellent consultant to Virginia Tech football. He wouldn’t be committed beyond this year and he wouldn’t be a threat to the existing coaching staff. But much like Jerry Kill was with Justin Fuente, another set of experienced eyes with specific skills in an area the Hokies are struggling with right now – offense – could be a very wise investment in helping a career assistant like Pry make the transition to head whistle.

All of this is pure speculation on my part. But at what some are calling the nadir of the Virginia Tech football program’s existence these days, there could soon be manna from heaven out there for the taking.

Only this manna may instead of heaven, be coming from Wisconsin.

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Friday, 09 December 2022

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