The college basketball world was saddened to hear the news that broke on Tuesday night, as longtime Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan announced he would be retiring, effective immediately.
Ryan is a Badger legend, and will undoubtedly get into the college basketball Hall of Fame. He has amassed over 700 wins in his coaching career, with 363 of them coming at Wisconsin. He won 74 percent of his games as the Badgers’ head coach, a position he had held since 2001. He also led them to back to back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015. He has had a great impact on the program, and his retirement is nothing less than a small blow. That said, it could not have come at a more perfect time for Wisconsin.
The Bo Ryan Retirement is Perfect Timing for Barry Alvarez & Co.
The timing of Ryan’s retirement has been speculated on by every level of media since he announced it. Ryan’s associate head coach, Greg Gard, has been a favorite of Ryan’s for years, and is the man that Ryan wants to take over the program.
Gard was set to take over the program in the spring, as Ryan was ready to announce his retirement. Suddenly, Gard’s father, Glenn Gard, became terminally ill. Ryan, who lost his father in 2013, wanted Greg to spend as much time as possible with his father and family. To add salt to the wound, it was reported that Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez was not on board to guarantee Gard the job, which rubbed Ryan the wrong way as well.
With recent back to back Final Fours under its belt, the Wisconsin head coaching position has never looked better to outside coaches. Alvarez realizes that, and wants to pounce on the situation. One name that is popular to come up is Virginia’s Tony Bennett. Bennet has had much success as the Cavaliers’ head coach, even winning the ACC last year. He is from Wisconsin, and his father, Dick, coached there. Not to mention Bennett was a Badgers assistant at one time. If Bennett would leave Virginia, which is certainly no guarantee, one would think Wisconsin is a job he would consider very heavily.
In the summer, Ryan announced this season would be his last, but everyone thought he would go the full year. Ryan had different ideas, obviously.
The national beef with Ryan and the timing of his retirement announcement is the idea that Ryan did this on purpose to guarantee that Gard would be the interim head coach for the Badgers. This type of strategy is not a new one, as ex-Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun retired in 2012 to pass the reins to assistant coach Kevin Ollie. That said, Calhoun retired before the season, not in the middle of it.
Many have perceived this as a shady way for Ryan to ensure that ‘his guy’ gets the head coaching job because he is essentially taking power away from Alvarez. In truth, Ryan is doing Alvarez a favor.
The way the timing works with Ryan’s retirement, Gard is going to have (less than) one year to prove himself as the Badgers head coach. The school is not committed to Gard for any longer than the rest of this year; he is auditioning for himself.
Why does this benefit Wisconsin’s administration?
Instead of being pressured into giving Gard a four-year contract before or after this season, and there would have been a TON of pressure to do so, they basically get to sit back and observe. If Gard does a nice job with the team, they will be able to give him a contract while also having full confidence behind him. If he stumbles and cannot show he can be a quality college coach, then they will have reason to not bring him back.
It is a win-win situation for the school. They get to see what Gard will bring to the table this season, while also having the option to go after a guy like Tony Bennett if they are not completely happy with Gard.
So, sure, it looks like on the surface, Ryan is trying to stick it to Barry Alvarez and the school for not being in favor of a Gard hire back in the spring. In reality, Ryan is just repaying the school that he has stayed loyal to for years.