Wisconsin football: A day in the life of Paul Chryst
It's a cool, gray Wednesday morning and the clock on the dashboard says it is 6:45 when Paul Chryst arrives for work.
He pulls his black Toyota SUV into the Lot 17 parking structure north of Camp Randall Stadium and slides into the first angled spot on the ground floor.
He's dressed in gray sweat pants and a red, long-sleeved T-shirt. He's carrying a large, nicely-wrapped present under his left arm, which seems strange, but there's a good explanation.
In many aspects it will be a routine day for Chryst as Wisconsin football coach.
It will be a long one -- 16 hours -- which is typically the case every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the season as Chryst and his staff get the Badgers ramped up for a game. This time it will be a first-ever trip to Maryland for a Big Ten Conference assignment with the Terrapins at Byrd Stadium.
Chryst, who turns 50 later this month, will take part in numerous meetings and video reviews. There will be discussions about recruiting and academics. There will be time devoted to peripheral issues like uniform designs and NFL scouting evaluations. There will be humor, sarcasm and casual banter as well.
Oh, yeah. There will also be an actual practice, which Chryst says is the best part of all.
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Here's how the plan came together:
7:07 a.m. – Brian Lucas, the UW Director of Athletic Communications who coordinates all media duties for Chryst, is waiting in the eighth floor football offices for him to arrive. He gets a text from the coach saying he won't be coming in until 10 or 11. Chryst appears seconds later, a sly grin on his face, and unlocks the door to an expansive office that overlooks the dark, empty stadium below.
7:09 – "Dew?" Chryst asks a visitor, pulling a caffeine-laden can of Mountain Dew from his office refrigerator. He'll have three before noon.
The head coach's office is appointed in leather furniture and dark woods, but nothing you'd call extravagant. It's the same décor Chryst's most recent predecessors -- Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema -- stayed with when they coached the Badgers.
Almost all the photos on display are of Chryst and his family -- wife Robin, daughters Katy and JoJo and son Danny -- and most are away from the football influence.
In one narrow display case is a black-and-white photo of Chryst's late father, George, from when he played for the Badgers in 1957 and '58. On a nearby shelf is a white UW helmet bearing his No. 51.
George also served as an assistant coach for the Badgers under John Jardine from 1972 to '77 and ran the NCAA Division III football program at UW-Platteville. On one end table, next to a container of Tootsie Rolls, is a framed prayer that defines George's philosophy toward coaching and life.
"Help me to play the game of life according to your rules; not mine," it begins. "To relish what you have given, rather than worry about what is missing or absent.
"To serve others as the peacemaker in the family, on the job, in our schools. To love others who are made in your image and not what image I think they should be.
"Today, tomorrow and for all time."
Across the room is his son's uncluttered desk, which features a laptop PC and sits below a vast HD television. Chryst will spend a good chunk of the morning and night watching video on it -- UW practices as well as various game scenarios of Maryland -- running plays over and over to scrounge up every bit of pertinent data. For much of the time Chryst's feet will be up on the desk with a remote control in his left hand. A notepad lays across his lap to jot down his thoughts. A computer keyboard is at the ready.
Country music via SiriusXM satellite radio is on as soon as the day begins and it plays continuously. Rascal Flatts ushers in the first business meeting of the day.
7:24 – Joe Rudolph, the associate head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, strolls in dressed in sweats with a no-nonsense look on his face. He sits down in a chair in front of Chryst's desk and watches a segment of practice video from the day before. They talk in a language all their own. It's the language of a big-time football playbook.
"Zeus pitch, no pitch.
"Run Martins out of the Diamond.
"In Diamond we can run Bob."
The two men are close friends. Both are former UW players. Both paid their dues at other Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Both worked on Bielema's staff from 2008 to '11 before Chryst left for Pittsburgh and Rudolph joined him in 2012.
They watch video of Maryland's defense against West Virginia and Iowa before Chryst informs Rudolph that junior tight end Eric Steffes will be unavailable due to injury. Rudolph says that will give sophomore fullback Austin Ramesh more to do.
"He needs more thinking on his plate," Rudolph says of Ramesh before returning to his office down a nearby corridor after a 20-minute visit.
8:01 – Andrew Marlatt, the director of recruiting, pops in to go over some details of an in-state recruiting trip Chryst plans to make at the start of the upcoming bye week. There are multiple cities involved. Marlatt says he'll pull together the best itinerary via MapQuest and get back to Chryst later.
8:14 – Chryst's veteran program assistant, Lisa Powell, comes in to remind him that, because of the bye week, he won't have to attend the weekly press conference for UW coaches on the coming Monday. She also said she'd check to see if his weekly radio show would also be scrubbed due to the downtime. Chryst understands his media obligations, but he doesn't exactly relish them. Of the possibility that his press conference and radio gig would be shelved, Chryst smiled mischievously. "That's a tremendous week," he said.
8:20 – An NFL scout checks in. He'll later join a scout from the New York Jets at practice. Chryst asks the scout which seniors he came to see. He rattles off safety Michael Caputo, wide receiver Alex Erickson, cornerback Darius Hillary, wide receiver/safety Tanner McEvoy, offensive tackle Tyler Marz, outside linebacker Joe Schobert, quarterback Joel Stave, tight end Austin Traylor and fullback Derek Watt.
8:29 – Chryst is done watching practice video for now. He sits down at his desk and begins to script the day's practice in pencil.
8:36 – Chryst reviews a Senior Day video put together by John Schaefer, the video coordinator for football, and gives it a thumb's up.
8:49 – Chryst jokingly asks a visitor if he brought a Sudoku puzzle book to pass the time.
8:57 – Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore comes in to Chryst's office to talk about ways to attack Maryland's secondary. In short order the two men are joined by Jon Budmayr, a one-time UW quarterback currently a graduate assistant for offense. Together they watch video cut-ups of Maryland's defense in the red zone and on third down. Chryst makes suggestions and asks opinions.
"You like empty Slash?
"What's the advantage of Duck?
"What's the best way to run Hammer?
"What do you think about Strait Swoosh?"
At one point Chryst opens up a cabinet on the wall near his desk to reveal a white board. He begins diagramming plays for Gilmore and Budmayr. More discussion follows before Gilmore and Budmayr get up to leave.
"Better get my ass scripting," Chryst said.
9:51 – UW athletic director Barry Alvarez appears on the scene, cup of coffee in hand. He and Chryst sit down at a table and look over uniform options being designed by Under Armour, the footwear and apparel company that will debut as a Badgers partner in 2016. They agree on a jersey design.
"I think it's us," Chryst said.
"It's clean," Alvarez said.
Once the decision is made, Chryst returns to his desk.
"Everything all right?" Alvarez asks.
Chryst nods, recounting an energized practice from the day before and plans for the work day ahead.
Alvarez leaves after a 20-minute stay, saying he has meetings to catch up on. He's whistling.
10:18 – Sunshine is starting to peek through the gray clouds. Chryst gets up from his desk and walks over to open the curtains and the door that leads to his balcony.
"Just hope that hawk doesn't fly in," he said.
Chryst explains that a hawk has been known to use the metal railing of the balcony as a perch. He makes a joke about it being a spy for Iowa, which handed the Badgers their only Big Ten loss on Oct. 3.
10:51 – A quiet stretch ends with a declaration.
"Done," Chryst said of his latest play-scripting project. Copies are made and dispensed.
10:56 – Mike Moll, the head athletic trainer for football, comes by with some medical updates. Injuries have ravaged the depth chart this season, especially on offense, and there will be more holes to fill for the Maryland game.
"Any good news?" Chryst asks. The answer seems underwhelming, including word that Steffes will not be able to go.
"Who are we going to play at second tight end?" Chryst asks, knowing he won't get a response.
10:57 – Lucas returns to get Chryst up to speed for an 11 a.m. conference call with Big Ten Network personnel that will call the Maryland game. Chryst turns the music down and shuts his door.
Chryst answers questions about injuries and the evolution of the offensive line. He talks about Corey Clement, the star-crossed junior tailback who's trying to come back from sports hernia surgery but ultimately will not make the trip to Maryland.
Chryst talks about how Stave and senior wide receiver Alex Erickson, both former walk-ons, have made the transition from complementary pieces to front-line players. Chryst praises the work of sophomore linebacker Jack Cichy, who's stepped in for injured true freshman starter Chris Orr. Chryst outlines his philosophy for using senior Tanner McEvoy on offense and defense. The call lasts 20 minutes.
11:54 – Chryst embarks on the task of making a teaching tape he'll share in an upcoming meeting with his quarterbacks. The plays have intriguing titles.
"Chilly Flat Whip.
"Strait to Swoosh 11R.
"Duck Hammer Hunt Fist/Hinge."
Chryst relates the only time he's been to Byrd Stadium, where the Badgers will face Maryland, was when he was a graduate assistant at West Virginia in 1989 and '90.
12:30 p.m. – After some recruiting updates from Marlatt, Chryst retrieves a container of day-old pasta from his refrigerator and digs in.
"Sometimes I don't remember to bring leftovers," he said. "Then I eat cashews."
1:19 – Chryst grabs his hat and sunglasses and heads out the door. An elevator ride is followed by a team meeting.
"Best part of the day," he said.
The quick gathering of players and coaches starts at 1:30 on the dot. Redshirt freshman guard Micah Kapoi delivers the thought for the day.
"The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary," he said.
The get-together ends with a laugh. Chryst introduces a video of McEvoy's postgame media interview following a home victory over Rutgers on Halloween. McEvoy is dressed as the Will Ferrell character in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. McEvoy has the lines and mannerisms down pat.
1:35 – Chryst convenes a meeting of his four quarterbacks – Stave, junior Thad Armstrong, junior backup Bart Houston and true freshman Alex Hornibrook – in a small, windowless room. Chryst is seated in the back running an overhead projector while wielding a laser pointer. The dialogue is fascinating.
"Hammer's a good play if you get the zone," Chryst said.
"You could run Slash here, but it's a different thought process," he continued.
There are references to "Duck" and "Loon" and "Big Flex."
While Chryst goes over plays and formations, Armstrong mimics the hand signals he'll flash from the sidelines.
"You OK with that? Joel? Bart?" Chryst asks. "You comfortable with that?"
Affirmatives are offered.
"You're never wrong with Big Flex," Chryst stresses at one point.
"Rudy's not liking the flip on Zeus," he continues.
"You going Giant here or 39?" Chryst asks of Stave and Houston.
Chryst stands up and makes a philosophical point to the foursome.
"Hope is not a method," he said.
Moments later, after watching video of a 7-on-7 sequence from the previous day's practice, Chryst asks his quarterbacks if they remember the context of the line.
"Bad coaching," Chryst said before scurrying to one of the white boards and repeating the line while writing it out for posterity.
"Hope is not a method," he said.
2:42 – Chryst grabs his hat and sunglasses and merges into a surge bound for the nearby McClain Indoor Facility for a walk-through that features special teams. Practice will follow in Camp Randall.
"Let's have a good one," Chryst said.
On his way to McClain, Chryst encounters equipment manager Mark Peeler near a semi-trailer being packed for the trip to College Park, Maryland. Chryst asks the whereabouts of the wrapped package he brought from home that morning. It's a birthday gift for daughter Katy, who'll be on hand for the game. Peeler said it was packed safely away and would be in Chryst's hotel room when he arrived two days later.
Chryst was asked its contents.
"Boots, I think," he said.
3:26 – It's sunny, warm and breezy -- remarkably comfortable for an early-November day -- when players and coaches spill out onto the Camp Randall surface for a mostly non-contact practice. Chryst is now wearing a wireless microphone for a video feature.
Among the observers on the sidelines are the two NFL scouts and Alvarez, who stops by for the early stages of practice.
While defensive coordinator Dave Aranda oversees the stingiest unit in the nation at one end of the field, Chryst pays particular attention to the offense, squatting nearby and providing near constant analysis. He's purposeful, yet calm.
One minute Chryst is standing with Armstrong, who is relaying play calls to Stave, Houston and Hornibrook via hand signals. The next, Chryst is having an animated discussion with senior fullback Derek Watt. The next minute, Chryst tweaks Erickson after a long TD hook-up with Stave.
"Congratulations," Chryst said. "You beat a redshirt freshman."
5:17 – Practice ends. Chryst spends a long moment talking about the day's events with Erickson, Schobert and Stave.
Chryst is heading off the field when Lucas reminds him that he must record a video message to Badgers fans attending a pep rally for the Maryland game.
"You're really pushing it today," Chryst jokes to Lucas.
5:30 – Chryst heads to the dining room on the lower-level corridor of Camp Randall for dinner. He fills a tray with corn on the cob, beans, peaches and muffins that will be doused in honey. He's soon joined by Rudolph and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, who was one of five assistants to follow Chryst from Pittsburgh. They chat while a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory" plays on a nearby TV.
5:53 – Chryst returns to his office to find a member of the custodial staff vacuuming. He re-opens the patio door to allow a cool breeze in, then turns up the music. He grabs another can of Mountain Dew and starts watching video from the just-completed practice.
6:17 – Marz, the lone senior in a patchwork offensive line, stops by. During their brief chat Chryst asks how junior center Dan Voltz is doing. Voltz suffered a season-ending knee injury vs. Illinois on Oct. 24. Marz relates how it's been tough for Voltz during an injury-plagued 2015, which is why Marz keeps touching base with Voltz to keep him up to speed.
6:37 – Erickson stops by. He and Chryst talk route-running strategy against Maryland, which has one of the top cover corners in William Likely. They also review the red zone segment of practice and discuss, yes, omelet-making techniques.
When Erickson leaves after a 25-minute visit, Chryst laments the advent of iPads for players because it detracts from one-on-one talks like the ones he's had with Marz and Erickson.
"Interaction is needed," Chryst said. "A lot of them don't know what they're looking at (on the iPad)."
7:28 – Chryst begins reviewing a list of possible play calls to use against Maryland. Some are red-lined -- not to be used -- with the idea of whittling 45 or so options down to 30 to 35. Rudolph, Gilmore and Budmayr share their thoughts throughout the process.
Why would a play be red-lined? Perhaps it didn't look good in practice, Chryst explained. It may not have gotten enough repetitions during the week. It may also have been a case where the players looked like they just didn't get it.
8:04 – Stave stops by for a regularly-scheduled meeting with Chryst, who has opened another can of Mountain Dew. They go over the play list together as Stave ranks and red-lines his preferences for the game against the Terrapins.
"If they play diamond, like I think they are, I like the whole package," Chryst said.
Questions and discussions follow in a calm, easy manner.
"Would you start with Larry and Freddy or go with regular Giant?" Chryst asks in the language of play-calling. "Do you want to align for Bubble or align for Spear?"
Suddenly, an entertaining discussion regarding music comes to life. Stave has a gift for singing and playing the piano, hence his stated affection for Billy Joel and Elton John. Chryst prefers country, but says he has wide-ranging tastes.
Chryst rattles off some of his favorites on Pandora -- Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, Dierks Bentley, Country Christmas Radio -- before dialing up some Billy Joel-inspired musicians. After sounds of "A New York State of Mind" fill the room, Chryst's face lights up when he hears "It's Magic" by Pivot.
"This song was on my transistor radio," he jokes.
Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and Elton John's "Your Song" follow. Those give way to Chryst's lyrical interpretation of "American Pie" by Don McLean.
Chryst said later that moments of personal, casual discussion with his players are critical because they help create a bond. He said they also make it easier for a coach when, ultimately, "you have to chew their ass."
Back to the game plan, Chryst asks Stave for his play-call preferences for various down-and-distance scenarios. Then Chryst asks what plays Stave wants to be part of Thursday's practice repetition.
10:10 – Stave leaves and Chryst quickly huddles with Budmayr in Budmayr's next-door office to review a more tapered play sheet that will be used at Thursday's practice.
10:33 – Chryst is back in his office when Marlatt stops by with multiple recruiting updates.
10:37 – Chryst finishes scripting plays and diagrams by hand. Copies are made.
"You just hope some of this (stuff) works," he said ruefully.
11:02 – Chryst makes his way out to the lobby and down the elevator to the main exit of the Stephen M. Bennett Student-Athlete Performance Center. It's cool and damp. He starts his vehicle and heads for home already thinking about tomorrow.