Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan says he will retire after next season
Bo Ryan has been the fire-breathing face of Wisconsin basketball for 14 seasons, pushing the Badgers to never-before-seen heights.
After 14 NCAA tournament appearances, seven Sweet 16s, four Big Ten titles, two Final Fours and a berth in last year's national championship game, the hard-charging 67-year-old Ryan has only one more season left in him.
Ryan surprised the college basketball world Monday when he announced that he plans to retire after next season as he looks to pass the torch after molding the Badgers into a national power. And were it not for some cajoling from Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, Ryan said he would have called it a career in April after the Badgers lost to Duke in the national title game.
"I've always been told that is not a decision to be made right after a season is completed," Ryan said in a statement issued by the school. "Barry thankfully encouraged me to take some time to think about it and I have done that."
Ryan said it is his hope that longtime Badgers assistant Greg Gard is chosen to succeed him. The associate head coach has been on Ryan's staff dating to 1993, when the two were at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville.
"It was kind of shocking to me," said Sam Dekker, a forward on last year's team just drafted by the Houston Rockets. "I knew it was coming at some point but I didn't know it would be this soon. It's shocking. If it's the best decision for him and if it will make him happy, then so be it. It's going to be different seeing a different coach on the sideline, that's for sure."
Whoever gets the job has some big shoes to fill. The silver-haired Ryan has become synonymous with the Badger program, stomping up and down the sideline, barking at referees and pushing Wisconsin to national power status with a brand of basketball that was often much more physical than flashy.
Ryan is 357-125 (.741) as coach of the Badgers and has taken the program to the NCAA tournament in every one of his seasons on the bench.
The Badgers reached a crest over the last two seasons, topping last year's Final Four run by beating undefeated Kentucky in the national semifinals this season before losing to Duke. The Badgers have won four Big Ten titles and never finished lower than tied for fourth in the conference during his tenure.
"I am looking forward to another year with our program, including our players, my terrific assistant coaches, our office staff and everyone who supports Wisconsin basketball here in Madison, around the state and across the country," Ryan said.
Though he was born and raised in Pennsylvania, Ryan became synonymous with the state of Wisconsin. He served as an assistant for the Badgers from 1976-84, won four Division III national titles in 15 years at Wisconsin-Platteville and coached Milwaukee for two years before then-athletic director Pat Richter brought him back to Madison. His career record is 740-228 and he is so ingrained in the state's culture that he was starred in a television commercial for the state's tourism bureau that poked fun at his grumpy image.
Duke has Mike Krzyzewski. Michigan State has Tom Izzo. Wisconsin has Bo Ryan.
"He built that program up into one of the powerhouse college basketball programs in the nation," Dekker said. "It's basically because of him and the players he brought there. College basketball, you can mention him with names like Izzo, Coach K, Bob Knight ... Old-school guys, very competitive guys that you respect. They're going to lose a big part of college basketball."
He wasn't the splashiest of hires when he took over the program in 2001, one year after Dick Bennett led the team to the Final Four. Bennett retired two games into the 2000-01 season.
But he injected the program with a working-class attitude instilled in him while he grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, and honed as he climbed the coaching ladder for three decades before Alvarez gave him his big break.
And he won big, too. Prior to Ryan, Wisconsin had just seven NCAA tournament appearances in the previous 63 years.
"He is very tough-minded," Gard said before the Badgers played Kentucky in the 2014 national semifinals. "And I think that whole thing in terms of street toughness, the understanding that there's an appreciation for what you have. The willingness to never quit, never give up. He came from a family that had limited resources financially, so you have an appreciation for what it takes; what hard work really is."
The approach fit perfectly in the rugged Big Ten, where basketball games often turn to wrestling matches in the paint. Ryan rarely competed against the likes of Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina for the highest-profile recruits, those who would often be on campus for a year or two before bolting to the NBA.
Instead, Ryan built his program around the meat-and-potatoes kids who showed up with chips on their shoulders for being overlooked by the glitzier schools. Kids who would spend four years working and molding themselves into better players and adopting Ryan's brass-knuckle intensity.
Without the top-flight athletes to run teams out of the Kohl Center, Ryan's famed swing offense was built on bleeding the shot clock down the last few seconds, slowing the game down and reducing the number of possessions in a game to balance the scales. The philosophy often kept scores painfully low, and the Badgers are one of the teams most often cited when observers bemoaned the lack of offense in the modern college game.
But over the last two years, the Badgers played with an unmatched offensive efficiency that helped push them to those Final Fours. Frank Kaminsky, who was named national player of the year for 2014-15, and Dekker were both drafted in the first round last week, and the team that took down mighty Kentucky was a model for ball movement and team play.
"I've never seen a bunch of guys — I've coached a long time — and that's probably as far as guys (have come) together," Ryan said after they lost to Duke. "I mean look at our offensive efficiency, that says a lot about a group of people who are willing to share the ball."
Maybe that's why Ryan thought so hard about stepping away. But with players like Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig returning, Ryan will take one last victory lap.
AP freelance writer Andrew Wagner in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
This article was written by Jon Krawczynski from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.