Tom Oates: Ex-UW quarterback Brooks Bollinger a big fan of UW coach Paul Chryst
Being a newly announced member of the 2017 University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame class brings back “hundreds and hundreds” of memories for former quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
Typical of Bollinger, who remains as humble and down-to-earth today as he was when he wore a UW uniform, the ones that stand out the most are about others.
“I think everybody from my era would bring up the day that Ron (Dayne) broke the (NCAA rushing) record in ’99 in the Iowa game,” Bollinger, now 37, said Tuesday at the Legends of Wisconsin Classic at University Ridge Golf Course. “I still haven’t been around an atmosphere like it. I haven’t seen anything like it. I was fortunate enough to play in it. So that was a special day. (And) the Rose Bowl to me is one of the most special places on the planet. To go there twice and be a part of that was special.”
As was that magical day at Ohio State early in the 1999 season when Bollinger, a redshirt freshman making his first college start, rallied the Badgers from a 17-0 deficit to a 42-17 victory over the 12th-ranked Buckeyes. The victory put UW on a path to win its second consecutive Rose Bowl.
“It’s kind of hard to believe it happened, just being my first start and the emotions that you’re feeling in that situation going into the Horseshoe for your first start and topping it off getting interviewed by Lynn Swann on the field after the game and then running off,” Bollinger said. “It felt like I was above the stadium watching myself play, or at least leaving the field. Certainly a day I’ll never forget.”
Bollinger’s four year-run as the starting quarterback is certainly a career UW fans will never forget. He compiled a 30-12 record, including 3-0 in bowl games. And while he never had gaudy passing numbers in a UW offense that ran the ball even more then than it does today, he routinely beat opponents with both his arm and his feet.
Bollinger was announced Tuesday as part of a 10-member class that will be enshrined in the UW Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 29, an honor he hopes is shared by everyone who crossed his path at UW.
“It brings up a lot of gratitude of being able to play with a bunch of great teammates, play for a bunch of great coaches, all the support staff and the relationships that I was fortunate enough to develop when I was here,” Bollinger said. “Some people go into the Hall of Fame and they say, ‘He made everybody around him better.’ I feel like with me, it’s, ‘He was made better by everybody around him.’ ”
These days, Bollinger has a day job at a wealth management office in the Twin Cities, is the second-year head coach at Cretin-Durham Hall High School in St. Paul and helps raise four children. That doesn’t leave a lot of free time, but Bollinger does retain many connections with the UW program after a playing career that included six seasons in the NFL — three with the New York Jets, two with Minnesota, one with Dallas — and two more in the short-lived United Football League, where he was the most valuable player in 2009.
Bollinger first crossed paths with UW coach Paul Chryst when Chryst was UW’s tight ends coach in 2002, Bollinger’s final college season. After his professional career was over, Bollinger spent two seasons as Chryst’s quarterbacks coach at Pitt, giving him direct insight into Chryst, who has compiled a 21-6 record since returning to UW.
“I think he’s one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met,” Bollinger said. “I think he knows exactly who he is, he’s very comfortable with who he is and I think that allows him to communicate with people very effectively and be a very good coach.”
After playing in three NFL systems and then for current Washington coach Jay Gruden in the UFL, Bollinger has seen many elite coaches in action. He called Chryst “naturally sharp,” then said that’s not the biggest reason for Chryst’s success.
“More than anything, he puts the work in,” Bollinger said. “And he always has, which was a little bit frustrating at times as his quarterback coach. He’ll want to see every clip of film and he’ll want to make sure that there’s no stone left unturned with any player we’re putting in, any decision we’re making on how to coach a guy or how to run a play. The work produces the answers. He has a thorough process and he just repeats it. I think the other thing is, he just loves it. You guys know it as well as I do, there’s nothing else he’d rather do.”
Chryst’s gift, according to Bollinger, is he teaches his players how to love the game of football. He sees that going on now with sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, a part-time starter for UW last year and a player Bollinger got to know when they were recruiting him at Pitt.
“I was very impressed with him then and was even more impressed with him now and how he’s grown,” Bollinger said. “I couldn’t be more excited just knowing the kind of young man he is and the kind of player he is and the way his mind works. I just think it’s such a good fit with Paul and the way Paul teaches. He’s got more upside than me and hopefully he can put it together and have a great year.”
Or maybe even a great four years.