Ten candidates to be Wisconsin football’s next head coach

Wisconsin football shook up the program on Sunday night. You read that sentence right. The Wisconsin Badgers made a somewhat shocking move, and that is not something you hear every day.

Paul Chryst was fired by the Badgers on Sunday after over seven seasons as the head coach. It wasn’t the outcome that was as shocking as the timing. Wisconsin made the move midseason after a 2-3 start and fresh off of one of the most disappointing performances in recent Badger history.

Where does the Badger program go from here? In the very short term, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has been named interim head coach. This is his first head coaching job (on an interim or official basis) and he was quick to give Chryst flowers in tonight’s press conference.

There are a number of options out there for Wisconsin football, including sticking with Leonhard long-term. Here are some routes the Badgers could go:

Lance Leipold

Sep 24, 2022; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold and wife Kelly leave the field after the win over the Duke Blue Devils at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If you have been on Twitter in the last few hours, you’ve seen this name get thrown around. Lance Leipold is currently in the midst of a dream season with Kansas. He has turned the Jayhawks into a Big 12 contender seemingly overnight.

More importantly from a Wisconsin perspective, he has Badger State ties. The 58-year-old played quarterback at UW-Whitewater before leading the Warhawks as head coach for eight seasons.

With Leipold you are getting someone from outside the family who still holds a number of Wisconsin ties. He is an offensive mind who has miraculously turned the Jayhawks offense into one of the stronger units in the Big 12.

Jim Leonhard

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard looks on in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

This certainly feels like the most likely scenario. Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and now interim head coach is at the top of the list when it comes to the Badgers next permanent leader.

Leonhard starred at Wisconsin after walking on to the Badger team. After a ten-year NFL career, he made his way to Madison where he worked his way from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator under Paul Chryst.

The 39-year-old has felt like the next in line for some time, and the time might be now.

Dave Aranda

Sep 10, 2022; Provo, Utah, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Dave Aranda supervises warmups as Baylor before a game against the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

Here is another name that has been thrown around for a multitude of reasons. Aranda served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2013-15, and has since gone on to lead Baylor to the 2021 Big 12 title.

The California native turned down offers from Texas Tech and Cal to take the Badger defensive coordinator job under Gary Andersen.

He is 14-4 over the past two seasons at Baylor.

Sean Lewis

Sep 15, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Kent State Golden Flashes head coach Sean Lewis looks on from the sideline during the third quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Kent State 63-10. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After the first three names, this list admittedly turns into a number of long shots.

Sean Lewis is one of those long shots with Wisconsin ties, and the former Badger tight end has turned Kent State from a bottom feeder to a competitive program over the past few seasons.

When he was hired with the Golden Flashes, he was the youngest head coach in FBS at only 32 years of age.

Dave Doeren

NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren watches warm up before the game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina Saturday, October 1, 2022.
Ncaa Football Clemson Football Vs Nc State Wolfpack

Another former Wisconsin defensive coordinator joins the list in Doeren. He was the Badgers defensive coordinator from 2006-10, and has gone on to serve as the head coach for North Carolina State.

Doeren has been at the helm for the Wolfpack since 2013, and has won nine games in three of the past five seasons.

Matt Rhule

Oct 2, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule reacts in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Rhule is extremely accomplished as a college coach despite his NFL struggles. The Penn State alum lacks any ties to Wisconsin, but has won at multiple levels of college football.

Rhule was named Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2019 while at Baylor, and turned the Bears from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 in 2019.

Tom Herman

Dec 29, 2020; San Antonio, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns coach Tom Herman hoists the championship trophy after defeating the Colorado Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Have crazier things than Tom Herman being named Wisconsin’s next head coach happened ? I’m not quite sure.

With that being said, Herman was fantastic at Houston and brings a new-look offensive mindset to a Badger team in need of one. Don’t rule him out as a potential offensive coordinator hire if Leonhard were to keep the job.

Dan Mullen

Dec 30, 2019; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen (left) talks with Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask (right) after Trask scored a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second half in the 2019 Orange Bowl game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Things didn’t go according to plan for Mullen at Florida, and he has since transferred to a studio role with ESPN College Football.

The start of his Gators tenure was promising, but the finish was lackluster. With Mullen, you’d also be bringing in a fresh look at the offense from the head coaching seat.

Matt Campbell

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, left, gives a thumbs up heading into a timeout during a NCAA college football game in the Cheez-It Bowl against Clemson, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

Matt Campbell has done an overall solid job at a place in Iowa State that isn’t the easiest job on the block.

He turned the Cyclones around from a bottom feeder to a competitive program in a matter of a year, and had success at Toledo prior to that.

Urban Meyer

Former Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.

This isn’t happening, it’s just an ode to former BadgersWire writer Ben Kenney. Don’t worry, this isn’t happening. Crazier things literally haven’t happened.

Story originally appeared on Badgers Wire