The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
“Yet to come …”
— Paul Chryst on his fondest
memory at Camp Randall Stadium
BY ANDY BAGGOT | UWBadgers.com Insider
Paul Chryst’s roots at Camp Randall Stadium run deeper than most, perhaps more than anyone who’s ever set foot in the place.
Born in Madison in 1965, he spent a healthy chunk of his formative years growing up in the Vilas neighborhood, which is a short walk from the century-old facility at 1440 Monroe St.
Chryst, one of five children and the youngest of three boys, used to sneak into the stadium as a grade-schooler and play football with his buddies.
He used to walk its confines delivering newspapers and working on the clean-up crew after UW games.
He used to sit in the stands or walk the sidelines observing his father as he served as an assistant coach for the Badgers from 1972 to ’77.
Chryst played his first meaningful football game at Camp Randall, winning a state championship for Platteville High School, as an 18-year-old quarterback in 1983.
He received a scholarship to UW, earned a degree in political science, and played offense (quarterback, tight end), defense (cornerback, outside linebacker) and special teams (holder, kick coverage) for the Badgers from 1985 to ’88.
He returned twice as a UW assistant coach — for one season in 2002, overseeing tight ends, and again for seven seasons as offensive coordinator in 2005 — before returning to his alma mater as head coach in 2015.
Chryst has spent the better part of his 51 years coming full circle, doing something he loves on a legendary site. His first two seasons as coach of the Badgers have been especially impressive: 21-6 overall and two bowl victories.
But ask him for his fondest memory of Camp Randall and Chryst gives you an elusive answer.
“Yet to come,” he said.
“It’s the landmark, it’s the place. As a kid it was an experience to go to it.”
— Paul Chryst
Paul Chryst’s first memory of being inside Camp Randall was when he was in second or third grade.
He had access because his father, George, a center and guard for the Badgers from 1956 to ’58, was an assistant under then-coach John Jardine.
“I remember the JV football games,” Chryst said of that staple of a bygone era.
Some perspective: Chryst was born the same year the upper deck was added on the west side of Camp Randall, bumping its capacity to 77,745.
When Chryst returned to Madison to begin his tenure as offensive coordinator, the school had just completed a massive renovation that cost $109.5 million and nudged capacity to 80,321.
Chryst has memories of tagging along with his older brothers, Rick and Geep, and their neighborhood friends for games inside the stadium.
“It’s the landmark, it’s the place,” Paul said. “As a kid it was an experience to go to it.”
Did the gang do anything mischievous?
“We thought we were (by) sneaking in,” Paul said.
“Sometimes there’d be an open gate, but you still had an idea you shouldn’t be in there. But the gate was open.”
“Every now and then you’d find a way to make it an open gate,” Paul said with a knowing grin. “That’s about as mischievous as we got.”
Chryst and Co. typically made their way into Camp Randall on summer weekends.
Did the future Division I college quarterback always call the plays in those games?
“If you were with the older kids, you were never going to be the quarterback at all,” Paul said. “You might never touch the ball.”
“It meant a lot playing for the state championship. It was a big deal. The town was behind it. It was cool.”
— Paul Chryst
The Chryst family has an on-field link to UW football going back to at least 1955 when George came to play center and guard for then-coach Ivy Williamson.
A year later, Williamson became the Wisconsin athletic director and Milt Bruhn, a neighbor of the Chrysts, began his 11-season run as coach.
George was a graduate assistant for Bruhn in 1959 when the Badgers won the Big Ten Conference title, the first of two league championships under Bruhn.
All told, the Chrysts have associations with every Wisconsin coach from 1955 to the present, with the exception of John Coatta (1967 to ’69).
George was recruited by Williamson, played for Bruhn and coached with John Jardine (1972 to ’77).
As for Gary Andersen, who coached the Badgers from 2013 and ’14, he bought Chryst’s home in Hawks Landing after Chryst left for a three-year stint as the head coach at Pittsburgh.
One of Chryst’s first big moments at Camp Randall came in 1983 when he helped guide Platteville to a 16-6 victory over Mosinee to claim the WIAA Division 4 state crown and cap a 12-0 season.
“It meant a lot playing for the state championship,” he said. “It was a big deal. The town was behind it. It was cool.”
During a recent reunion of UW football alums, Chryst said a highlight was meeting and talking with men who played with and for his father, who coached football and served as athletic director at UW-Platteville after leaving Madison.
“It spanned a long time,” Chryst said of the many voices. “Pretty cool.”
George Chryst was 55 when he died in his sleep from anaphylactic shock in 1992. The condition was triggered by the oils from fish and cashews, foods he’d eaten before going to bed.
Paul Chryst said he was better equipped to handle that devastating situation given what he experienced one spring day at Camp Randall in April of 1986.
He recounted how he and his roommate, Brian Anderson, had just retrieved their meal cards and were on their way to the locker room when they came upon a jarring scene at the sauna.
McClain was being tended to after suffering a fatal heart attack.
“I was a little bit older when my dad died, so I think that (moment with McClain) probably impacted my life more because I had a greater sense of what all was happening,” Chryst said.
“I can see it like it was yesterday.”
“Each group is so different and that’s their moment. You just try as a coach to have them have those moments.”
— Paul Chryst
If you ask Paul Chryst for his favorite Camp Randall moment as a kid growing up in Madison, it was watching the Badgers topple fourth-rated Nebraska 21-20 in 1974.
What about his playing career at UW? The Badgers won 12 of 33 games from 1985 to ’88.
“It’s a short list,” Chryst cracked.
He ultimately chose a 14-7 victory over Minnesota on Senior Day in 1988, the only victory for the Badgers that season (1-10).
All told, Chryst’s college playing career reflects the depth of his influence on the program. On offense he scored a touchdown rushing and receiving, attempted nine passes and 14 rushes and recorded 18 receptions. On defense he totaled seven tackles and a fumble recovery. On special teams he returned four kickoffs and was the holder for field goals and conversion kicks.
Chryst said every ensuing UW team he helped coach — including Big Ten titlists in 2010 and ’11 — had its own cache of favorite memories at Camp Randall.
He hopes to hear them first-hand someday.
“Each group is so different and that’s their moment,” Chryst said. “You just try as a coach to have them have those moments.”
A big one is yet to come.