Family, friends and alumni to celebrate memories of George Chryst
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — There was nothing that the late George Chryst thought impossible, whether it were to build up a championship football program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, bring the Chicago Bears to Southwest Wisconsin for training camp or convince University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant Coach Bo Ryan to become the Pioneers’ head basketball coach.
“George was very optimistic, by and large, and was always trying to make things work,” said his widow, Patty.
And make things work he did. Chryst, a former Wisconsin Badger football assistant himself, became UW-Platteville’s head coach in 1979 and athletic director in 1981. He guided the Pioneers to a 79-60-2 record, with a Wisconsin State University Conference championship in 1980 before his sudden death in 1992.
UW-Platteville will hold a Celebration of George Chryst on Friday, June 13 in Velzy Commons, Ullsvik Hall. Campus and facility tours begin at 2 p.m., the social hour at 4 p.m., dinner at 5 p.m. and the program at 6 p.m.
“I know I never would have come here if I didn’t have the belief in George,” said Ryan, who guided UW-Madison to the NCAA Division I Final Four last month. “He was so optimistic, and his enthusiasm was incredible.”
“George always said, ‘If I can keep coaching, I will get by without ever having to work,’” Patty said. “To him, coaching and teaching was not a job. It was a passion.”
His passion for not only the sport but also for teaching was an ideal combination that forged relationships throughout his life, Patty said.
“He loved the game of football and respected it,” she said. “He had a personal connection with the players and others on and off the field. He was opportunistic and enthusiastic and strove for excellence. He made good connections with many people.”
UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis J. Shields said, “Although I never met George Chryst, it seems like I know him very well. Everywhere I go, when people know I’m from UW-Platteville they want to tell me a story about how he impacted their lives. He positively affected so many of our alumni, faculty and staff and community members. By bringing the Chicago Bears' training camp here, he helped put the university and all of Southwest Wisconsin on the national scene. I honor his memory and the legacy he left by closing my own talks with his quote, ‘every day is a great day to be a Pioneer.’”
Football is still a large part of the Chryst family, as the three sons followed George’s footprints. Paul, who was UW-Madison’s offensive coordinator, is the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh; Rick formerly was the commissioner of the Midwest Athletic Conference and now is a vice president of Dietz Trott Sports Entertainment Management; and Geep is the quarterback coach of the San Francisco 49ers, helping them to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. Daughters Dolly Strauser and Cathy Greco work in education and nursing, respectively.
“They are all involved in helping others reach their potential,” said Patty.
The Chicago Bears saw the potential in UW-Platteville and made the university their training camp site from 1984-2001. Over time, the New Orleans Saints, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars trained at other UW System schools, combining with the Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings to form the Cheese League.
“It was a wonderful combined effort, and after the first year, the NFL owners voted UW-Platteville as the top training camp,” Patty said. “The food service was wonderful, and the ground crew was amazing. It was exciting for Platteville. As an institution, a university, and as a community, they pulled it off. I think that inspired other universities.”
Ryan also put UW-Platteville on the map, winning four NCAA III national championships and having the best record in all of college basketball during the 1990s.
“You know George had to be a pretty smooth talker because I took a $10,000 pay cut to come here,” Ryan said. “I just felt like it was the right time and a chance to work for someone I respected and who would give me a fair shake. One of the hooks he gave me was that Platteville would move me. Well, that sounded good to me. Then it turns out his son and the rest of the high school football team showed up at my house with a van. That was George, always finding a way.”
More information about the Celebration of George Chryst can be found online.
Written by: Paul Erickson, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, firstname.lastname@example.org