The Wisconsin Badgers have undergone unprecedented recent turnover across their coaching staff this year after struggling on the field in 2020.
Paul Chryst has chosen to retake offensive play calling duties and will take on shepherding the quarterbacks with Jon Budmayr off to become offensive coordinator with Colorado State.
Former strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej shifted to the defensive line after Inoke Breckterfield made a lateral move to Vanderbilt, and that resulted in the promotion of Shaun Snee to lead the strength department.
Jim Leonhard was nearly off to become the defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, but will now continue to fully run the defense while specializing with the safeties with the recent addition of Hank Poteat as cornerbacks coach.
While many of those moves were somewhat irregular, the recent report that long time Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle would take a lateral move to Kentucky might be the most shocking. The former App State star had spent 12 years under Paul Chryst, including stops at both Wisconsin and Pittsburgh.
The Badgers have a rich history of strong running backs and eye popping rushing statistics, many of which have come under the watch of Settle. His loss is noteworthy, but Paul Chryst has established a strong track record of hiring great coaches during his tenure.
With Settle off to Lexington, let’s take a look at some different candidates to potentially fill the void. First and foremost, let’s get the people with Wisconsin ties out of the way first.
The football team has long had a knack of hiring candidates with extensive ties to the university. Currently four of the 10 allotted on field staff are Wisconsin alumni, and that doesn’t include head coach Paul Chryst, and a bevy of analysts such as Taylor Mehlhaff and grad assistants like Micah Kapoi. So, while I don’t necessarily see many former Badgers being at the top of the wish list, it is a distinct possibility.
A few names that would fit this trend...
Eddie amassed over 1,000 rushing yards as a reserve tailback behind Ron Dayne back in the late 1990s and early 2000s for Wisconsin. Since his playing days he has put together a really strong coaching resume, and he is presently the running backs coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I doubt his alma mater is a big enough pull to steal him away from the NFL ranks that he has risen in, but maybe he wants to run quickly away from offensive coordinator Matt Canada in Pittsburgh. I don’t see this move happening, but that shouldn’t stop Barry Alvarez from making a phone call.
While Jeff Horton isn’t a former Wisconsin player, he coached on the sidelines for Wisconsin from 1999 to 2005 and won a few Rose Bowls with the Badgers. Back then he was a quarterback coach and helped develop Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi before heading off to the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
Since his stint in the NFL he has worked at Minnesota, including a brief moment as the interim head coach and most recently has been the running backs coach at San Diego State the past nine seasons.
Horton is the oldest candidate listed, but his experience is deep. Add in the fact that San Diego State is a run first program that uses many of the same principles as the Badgers and he could make sense for the time being. After all Settle wasn’t necessarily young either.
A pair of longshots to sprinkle in as well because of their ties to UW...
- Brian Calhoun: He was a former Wisconsin standout running back, and was also a strength coach under Chryst at Pittsburgh. The past six years he has been a high school strength coach in the Milwaukee area, but that is a pretty hefty leap to make at this point.
- James Rodgers: A big time playmaker at Oregon State with over 2,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards James Rodgers was recently brought on as an analyst this off-season for the Badgers. The brother of Jacquizz Rodgers, he could be a name to watch in terms of spring practice while the coaching search could be still going on.
While it is a viable possibility that the job lands in the hands of a person with Wisconsin ties, I think Paul Chryst has also shown a willingness to hire outside of the UW bubble as well. So here are a list of some FBS assistants from across the country that could make sense for the role.
While Reggie Davis does not have direct ties to Wisconsin, he has loose connections to Paul Chryst that could make him a possibility.
For one, Davis is a highly respected running backs coach with extensive coaching experience spanning all the way back to 2004 that followed his time playing in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers.
Some of his key stops include Oregon State and Nebraska under Mike Riley, who Paul Chryst is extremely close with. Additionally, Davis also coached alongside Paul Chryst’s brother Geep Chryst for multiple seasons with the 49ers. While Davis has not been a coach for Wisconsin, he has the loose ties that Paul Chryst oftentimes pulls upon.
He is currently the running backs coach of the Saint Louis BattleHawks in the XFL, so one would have to imagine a chance for a more steady job would intrigue him.
An up-and-comer that could make a ton of sense is Anthony Jones of Memphis.
In his three seasons at Memphis, the Tigers have had one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the country and multiple NFL Draft picks. Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Antonio Gibson, and Kenneth Gainwell all have seen huge success under his tutelage.
While he is one of the youngest coaches to make this list, he has had immediate success and is also a good recruiter with ties to the state of Tennessee after playing at UT-Chattanooga and also coaching at two high schools in the state.
Wisconsin has made a recent attempt to get into Tennessee and Kentucky on the recruiting trail, and the addition of Jones would definitely bolster that effort. Add in the fact that he has proven it at a Group of Five school, and it is just a matter of time before he earns a bigger job somewhere. Why not Wisconsin?
Lee Marks might be tough to pry away from the West Coast after spending most of his time coaching and playing west of the Mississippi, but he is another intriguing option.
Marks is an associate head coach and run game coordinator at Fresno State, in addition to being the running backs coach. Those types of responsibilities when coupled with his solid career as a tailback at Boise State make him the type of candidate that could apply for a chance at Wisconsin.
He is originally from California, but has also coached at Colorado, Sioux Falls, South Dakota State, Arkansas State, and Boise State (five years) before taking on the running backs role at Fresno the past season. Marks would bring recruiting ties to California, something that could pay dividends down the line.
A 12-year coaching veteran, Nic McKissic-Luke is the running backs and fullbacks coach at Northern Illinois. His head coach is former Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock. While a jump from Youngstown State to Northern Illinois, and then up to Wisconsin is a pretty quick rise, one would have to imagine he has learned quite a lot from Hammock.
Paul Chryst has a good relationship with Hammock, so a ringing endorsement by the NIU head man would probably carry some serious weight.
In addition to coaching at Northern Illinois and Youngstown State, he also spent time with South Dakota State, and was a 2,000 yard rusher with Alabama A&M as a player.