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'I don't think anyone saw it coming': Wisconsin's John Torchio explains how players were stunned to learn Paul Chryst had been fired

MADISON – The question was posed to the six Wisconsin players seated at a table inside the McClain Center on Wednesday morning.

Did any of you think you would be here answering questions about losing your head coach at any point this season?

Senior safety John Torchio jumped at the chance to respond.

“I don’t think anyone saw it coming, to be honest with you,” Torchio said. “Why not? I thought we as players would execute better and perform better and we haven’t. And that’s on us as players.

“We were all shocked and none of us ever thought we’d be in this situation this season.”

Wisconsin safety John Torchio scores a touchdown on a 100-yard interception return during the Badgers' season-opening game against Illinois State on Sept. 3.
Wisconsin safety John Torchio scores a touchdown on a 100-yard interception return during the Badgers' season-opening game against Illinois State on Sept. 3.

But here the Badgers are, 0-2 in the Big Ten and 2-3 overall entering their game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Northwestern (1-4, 1-1).

And there sat the six players Wednesday, three days after Paul Chryst was fired and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was named interim head coach, trying to put their emotions into words and discuss a season that so far has fallen short of expectations.

They were: Torchio, quarterback Graham Mertz, outside linebacker Nick Herbig, nose tackle Keeanu Benton, wide receiver Chimere Dike and tailback Braelon Allen.

Allen leads UW in rushing with an average of 99.8 yards per game but was held to 2 yards on 8 carries in the 34-10 loss to Illinois.

A little more than 24 hours later, Chryst had been fired.

“Nobody wanted to see coach Chryst go,” Allen said. “For me personally it’s fuel. Like Torch mentioned, it’s really on us. We didn’t execute. We didn’t play the way we needed to play.

“This is a consequence of that. So I guess moving forward you’ve got to use it as fuel like coach Leonhard has said.”

Herbig, one of three defensive players who spoke Wednesday, was asked what he would say to anyone who asked if Leonhard is capable of getting the team on track in the Big Ten West Division race.

He first reminded everyone how much he revered Chryst.

“He is a mentor,” he said. “He is one of my best friends. All of the guys in the locker room miss him. All the coaches miss him.

“He has been a mentor for coach Leonhard as well. Coach Leonhard is taking over, reiterating that we’re still playing for coach Chryst. It is still his team. We’re still his guys. He still loves us. We still love him.”

More: 'It’s time to get it done': Jim Leonhard is ready for Wisconsin to show growth on the football field

More: Jim Leonhard has defense in his DNA but understands Wisconsin's offense must be more consistent and proficient

Leonhard told reporters Tuesday that it was essential for the coaches and players to be able to compartmentalize their emotions so they could focus on practice and facing Northwestern on Saturday.

“I feel like that what this week has been about,” Benton said. “Coach Leonhard has not failed to reiterate to us that when we’re away you can grieve, you can do what you need to do.

“But when you come in and are between those lines you’ve got to do what you need to do. I feel like our guys have done a great job of that these past couple days. We hope to bring it into Saturday as well.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin players grappling with emotions after Paul Chryst's firing