Chryst is in his eighth season as head coach.
The Badgers were trounced by Illinois Saturday, losing to former Badgers coach Bret Bielema following a loss to Ohio State. The team has won two and lost three -- 38-0 to Illinois and 52-21 to Ohio State.
In a statement Sunday night, UW Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh announced defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has been named interim head coach of the Wisconsin football team.
Statement from McIntosh:
"After a heartfelt and authentic conversation with Coach Chryst about what is in the long-term best interest of our football program, I have concluded that now is the time for a change in leadership. Paul is a man of integrity who loves his players. I have great respect and admiration for Paul and the legacy of him and his family at the University of Wisconsin.
"I also have confidence in Jim Leonhard to guide the program for the remainder of the season. There is still a lot of season left to play and I know Jim will do a great job while the program is under his leadership."
Leonhard is in his seventh season on Wisconsin’s coaching staff. This is his sixth year as defensive coordinator. During that time, McIntosh's statement noted he has overseen one of the best units in college football as the Badger defense led the country in total yards allowed and ranked third nationally in scoring defense over the last five seasons.
Leonhard was a three-time All-American as a safety for Wisconsin, tying the school record with 21 career interceptions. He also broke the Big Ten record with 1,347 career punt return yards. A two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, he also was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, the prestigious National Football Foundation award referred to as the "Academic Heisman."
Though he went undrafted, Leonhard put together a 10-year NFL career with Buffalo, Baltimore, the New York Jets, Denver, New Orleans and Cleveland. He played in 142 games as a pro, starting 73 of them, McIntosh's statement said.
"I appreciate Chris McIntosh placing his trust in me to lead our team," Leonhard said. "My focus right now is on our players and moving forward with preparing them for our game on Saturday at Northwestern. "I owe a lot to Coach Chryst. Everyone in our program does. He gave me my first coaching job, and for that I am forever grateful. As a Badger, I thank him for his impact on our football program and our players over many years."
The Illini sacked Graham Mertz five times and held the Badgers to 2 yards rushing on 24 carries while handing Wisconsin its most lopsided home loss since a 48-7 setback against Penn State in 2008. This was Illinois' most lopsided win in the series since a 34-6 blowout of Wisconsin in 1988.
"Something needs to change because that's not us," Wisconsin safety John Torchio said. "That's not the Wisconsin football we all know."
The Badgers have fallen below .500 after opening the season in the AP Top 25.
In his seven-plus seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach, Chryst led the Badgers to a 67-26 record, including a 43-18 mark in Big Ten Conference play. A two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, Chryst piloted UW to three Big Ten West Division crowns. His 6-1 mark in bowl games included a pair of New Year’s Six victories.
Chryst, the 56-year-old Madison native, has four years left on his contract. He was set to make $5.25 million this season.
Chryst, who played quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, was an assistant under Bielema and Barry Alvarez.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.