The winds of college football are changing, and Jesse Temple’s recent interview with former Wisconsin personnel director Saeed Khalif doesn’t exactly paint a picture of Wisconsin as a football program keeping up with its competitors.
From the outside, it has appeared in recent years that Wisconsin was catching up to its Big Ten and national peers in terms of recruiting. Wisconsin ranked 29th nationally in the 247Sports Team Rankings Composite in 2019 and 26th in 2020.
However, Temple’s interview with Khalif in The Athletic sheds some light on his frustrations with the process and resources available at Wisconsin. Those frustrations were part of what eventually led him to a job with Michigan State’s football program earlier this summer.
Resources and Program Buy-In
According to Temple’s interview in The Athletic, Khalif said the most full-time recruiting staffers he had at Wisconsin was four. He has 12 in East Lansing. Khalif told Temple that just prior to his departure, it was just him and Jensen Gebhardt on the full-time staff, and they were “taking a pretty significant furlough hit” as well. On top of that, Gebhardt announced last week he would also be headed to Michigan State.
“The best we got was I had a total of four full-time people in recruiting. And then we had our best year ever,” Khalif told Temple. “And I know COVID hit. But we were the first department to get cut. And we were the only activity that was allowed to go on.”
Khalif told Temple he asked for more resources every year and received the following response:
”’We’re working on it. We’ll get back to you. I need more time.’ It was always one thing or another. And I’m transparent. I’m not trying to slam them or kill them,” Khalif said. “Every year, I was given the task of what do we need? And I would give a different structure every year. Sometime, I’d give the same structure and just write it up differently just to get back to how do you say the same thing in multiple ways just to make it stick?”
What he told Temple next is perhaps the most important item in the interview.
“Now what I think going forward, ultimately, it’s going to adjust. And I think Coach Chryst is going to fight for what he wants and stand up and get what he needs in there structurally to have a competitive recruiting department. And you have to compete in recruiting.”
Chryst, who Khalif said he loves, describing him as a “players’ coach,” has to rebuild a Wisconsin recruiting department in order to compete in one of the most competitive conferences in the country – one where Wisconsin has come up just short over the past seven years.
Wisconsin won the first two Big Ten Conference Championship games. The Badgers beat Michigan State with some late heroics in 2011, then demolished Nebraska 70-31 in 2012. Since that win, Wisconsin has made four of the last seven championship games, losing all four. Two of those were one or two-possession losses to Ohio State.
”I remember two opportunities or three opportunities playing [the Buckeyes] when we were there,” Khalif told Temple. “And their players outplayed us when it came down to closing games. We were in it. We were in games where it looked like we were going to finish them and dominate them. And their talent pool overtook our talent pool.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Badger fans overwhelmingly approve of Paul Chryst as the head football coach at Wisconsin. The Athletic’s Wisconsin football fan survey found that 98.2% of fans graded Chryst’s first five seasons either 4 or 5/5.
Chryst is the man for the job. He’s a Wisconsin guy, seems to like being here, and has delivered good results so far. But the winds of college football are changing, and Khalif told Temple that his vision and Chryst’s alignment with that vision “ebbed and flowed,” never “in a direct alignment.”
The Winds of Change
Khalif said he “always sold Wisconsin” to recruits and said he doesn‘t expect there to be a short-term impact to the program as a result of his departure. However, it’s possible Wisconsin Football is already seeing those effects.
It’s notable that Wisconsin has dropped to 41st nationally in the 2022 recruiting class rankings on 247Sports, with no commitments since July 4. The Badgers have just one four-star recruit on board and now rank 10th of Big Ten recruiting classes alone.
The days of Wisconsin trotting out a lineup of underdog recruits and bullying most college football teams seem to be in the rearview mirror. Rutgers, Michigan and Michigan State all rank in the top 15 2022 recruiting classes, according to 247Sports.
Indiana is 22nd. Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois all top Wisconsin’s 2022 class ranking. With good coaching, those teams could soon be knocking on Wisconsin’s door for Big Ten West supremacy. Those four teams have played Wisconsin tough in recent years, with a number of wins to show for it.
The Badgers should be focusing on making that jump from Big Ten West juggernauts to Big Ten champions and College Football Playoff candidates. Complacency is not an option in college football.
Taking the next step
“I honestly would say I think we recruited at a 50-percent capacity,” Khalif told Temple. “The one thing that the NCAA, despite how many people are in your recruiting department, you are allowed to send 10 coaches on the road to recruit. And all of them get the same number of days in the fall and all of them get the same number of days in the spring. I would honestly say that we didn’t maximize that.”
You can bet that other Big Ten teams are maximizing that. With a new athletic director in place at Wisconsin and new name, image and likeness rules for NCAA athletes, now is the time for Wisconsin to adapt. Khalif thinks the program can still get there.
”I think when they get the right [recruiting staffer] in place and they’ll allow them to [maintain a level of top-20 or top-15 recruiting classes],” Khalif said. “If they get a person with experience and vision and give them the resources to execute a plan and Coach Chryst supports them by giving them buy-in because the assistant coaches follow the lead of the head coach, they’ll be right back in those numbers. Because the place doesn’t change. The experience, the student life doesn’t change. Madison is still a great town to be in. You experience all four seasons. Spring and summer are probably better than anywhere else in the country that I’ve been. Those things still stand true.”
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