Lance Leipold and Jim Leonhard are among the leading candidates to replace Paul Chryst as Wisconsin coaches.

Wisconsin has a coaching vacancy after firing eighth-year coach Paul Chryst five games into the season, and it quickly becomes one of the most appealing jobs in college football. Wisconsin, once a Big Ten doormat, has emerged as a Midwestern powerhouse in recent decades. Wisconsin has won six Big Ten championships and been to 27 bowl games, including seven Rose Bowls, dating back to Barry Alvarez’s first season in 1990.

While Ohio State and Michigan have long dominated the Big Ten, Wisconsin has emerged as the conference’s West division powerhouse and one of its top programs. It’s not a job that comes up very often. Given its history and the money flowing into the athletic department as a result of the Big Ten’s latest television deal, it’s the type of job that could entice sitting Power Five coaches to leave.

So, who will be the Badgers’ next coach? Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard appears to be the clear favorite, and he’ll get a seven-game tryout as the interim, but nothing is guaranteed. Here’s a short list of names that might pique your interest.

Wisconsin defensive coordinator/interim coach; Jim Leonhard:

 I truly believe this is Leonhard’s job to lose. He’s been regarded as a coach-in-waiting with the Badgers for some time, though most expected him to be on the job for a little longer. Nonetheless, Leonhard has previously expressed interest in other Power Five jobs, including a few Big Ten positions, and the general consensus was that he was more interested in waiting for the Wisconsin job to open. He’ll get his chance now.

Kansas coach; Lance Leipold:

Leipold did an excellent job transforming a young Buffalo program into a MAC title contender, and in his second season at Kansas, he has the Jayhawks ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009. But before Leipold did all that, he led Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater to six national titles while going 109-6 in eight seasons. Leipold is a Wisconsin native, and there’s some thought that one of the reasons Wisconsin made a move on Chryst this early was because it wanted to make a run at Leipold before Nebraska could — or before Kansas could lock him up with a new deal. If it isn’t Leonhard, Leipold is the most likely candidate.

Iowa State coach; Matt Campbell:

 Some are questioning whether Campbell waited too long to leave Iowa State. Of course, that assumes he ever intended to jump. While the Cyclones are only 10-8 overall and 5-6 in Big 12 play since the start of 2021, it’s difficult to overlook his success at one of the country’s most difficult Power Five programs. If Campbell decides Wisconsin is the place for him, you have to believe he’ll win a lot of games there as well.

Baylor coach; Dave Aranda:

Gary Andersen didn’t get much right as Wisconsin coach during his brief tenure, but he nailed his defensive coordinator hire. Aranda was the Badgers’ defensive coordinator for three seasons before leaving for the same position at LSU. Aranda took over at Baylor after winning the Big 12 last season after winning a national championship with the Tigers. He is a native of California who has coached all over the country. He’d have to listen if Wisconsin called.

Kent State coach; Sean Lewis:

This would be a departure from Wisconsin’s tradition, but Lewis deserves to be considered for the Big Ten. Lewis’ Kent State teams have a history of producing fast-paced, high-scoring offenses. The Golden Flashes scored 22 points against Georgia two weeks ago and opened conference play with a 31-24 win over Ohio after playing one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the universe. Lewis, like Leonhard, is a Wisconsin alum, having played tight end for the Badgers.

NC State coach; Dave Doeren:

Doeren served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010, before taking over as head coach at Northern Illinois. He went to NC State after winning two conference titles in two years there, where he turned the Wolfpack into one of the ACC’s toughest programs and produced NFL Draft picks. Still, in his tenth season at NC State and coming off a loss to Clemson, Doeren may be wondering if he’s reached his ceiling in Raleigh. Maybe it’s time to start over somewhere else?

Carolina Panthers head coach; Matt Rhule:

Rhule’s NFL career has not gone well, and Carolina Panthers fans would most likely pay for his plane ticket to Madison, but Wisconsin fans should not be concerned. Many good college coaches have failed in the NFL, returned, and won numerous games. The name Nick Saban comes to mind. Anyway, Rhule won more games at Temple than anyone should be able to (he went 20-7 in 2015 and 2016) and then quickly turned around a Baylor program that had just emerged from the ashes of Art Briles. I’m confident he’d win in Madison as well.