Bo Ryan Retires, Effective Immediately

The Wisconsin Badgers’ game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday night was supposed to be a game that got the Badgers back on track. It was, in a sense, but they’re now headed down a completely different path. After two losses to in-state programs (UW-Milwaukee and Marquette), Wisconsin straightened things out enough to beat Texas A&M-CC to the tune of 64-49. But that is of little importance compared to the events that took place after the game. When Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan took to the podium for his post-game press conference, he announced he was retiring, effective immediately.

After the Badgers made it to the NCAA Championship game last season, in which they ultimately lost to Duke, Ryan released a statement in the weeks after, saying that this season would be his last. In his statement, he said he thought about retiring then and there, after losing the championship, but was talked into returning for one more season by Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez. Apparently Alvarez’s persuasion was enough to get Ryan to come back during last off-season, but not enough to make Ryan stay for the entirety of the season.

When Ryan made his retirement press release after the last game of last season, he specifically noted that he wanted his longtime assistant, Greg Gard, to be his successor. Gard is now Wisconsin’s interim head coach. In keeping with the theme this being a strange path for the Badgers, Ryan (and Gard) were granted their plan of succession, just not in the manner most thought.

As I wrote at the time of Ryan’s retirement announcement months ago, Bo Ryan’s success in basketball has been achieved by very few. And his ascension up the coaching ladder – and the path he took to get there – was even more of a rarity in the coaching world.

This season the Badgers have been largely a disappointment, as they are currently 7-5. Ranked 17th in the preseason poll, Wisconsin has now dropped out of the top-25 altogether. Losing Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser, and Traevon Jackson has left the Badgers searching for a new identity. That new identity will now have to come with a new head coach in Greg Gard.

While Wisconsin has (unfortunately) seen its share of untimely coaching departures. From Dick Bennett resigning three games into the 2000-01 basketball season (a season after he took Wisconsin to the Final Four), to the unexpected holes left by football coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen in recent years, Ryan stepping down now seems as surprising as any of the others. However, during his presser after the Texas A&M-CC game, Ryan acknowledged this has been in the works for some time. Now-head coach Gard was dealing with his father’s cancer diagnosis towards the end of last season, and died in the fall. So Bo’s return to Madison (albeit a brief return) offered the best route for all involved: Bo steps down on his own terms and passes the torch to Gard; Gard gets his chance to run the show (and with it, a chance to earn the gig outright after the season); and it provided Gard the chance to spend as much time as possible with his ailing father without putting his chances of being named Wisconsin’s next head coach at risk in the process.

It’s a strange bit of sports irony that Ryan built a legacy out of turning afterthought recruits and overlooked teams into conference champions and Sweet 16 competitors, that the season after his most widely-respected team took him to the Championship, his Badgers went right back to being overlooked. Only this time, if Wisconsin plays their customary role as the surprise team of the Big Ten, Bo Ryan won’t be on the sideline.

Bo Ryan finishes his career as the all-time wins leader at the University of Wisconsin, with a 364-140 record. With previous stops (at University of Wisconsin-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee, respectively) included, Ryan amassed an overall mark of 747-233. While at Division III Platteville, Ryan’s Pioneers won four National Championships.

It’s hard to imagine anybody ever usurping Bo Ryan as the greatest college basketball head coach the state of Wisconsin has ever, or will ever see. And more broadly, his legacy on the game of basketball in general will be felt forever. Wherever or whenever the swing offense is ran, the coaching spirit of Bo Ryan will live on.

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