No one in sports deserves anything. I hate when people say, "oh, it's great that Player X won, he deserved it." No. He did not deserve it. He earned it, through practice, work in the weight room, and watching film until his eyes bled. The same thing goes for coaches. Bo Ryan did not deserve to make the Final Four this year, he earned it. The same way Billy Donovan, Kevin Ollie, and John Calipari (ok, maybe not Calipari, he probably bought it) earned their berths in the Final Four.
But, if anyone did deserve to make the Final Four this year, it is Bo Ryan.
William Francis "Bo" Ryan started his career in basketball on the hard-scrabble streets of Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. I know calling some place "hard-scrabble" is silly and trite, but I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as well playing Chester in basketball, and those kids were tough, and well, hard-scrabble basketball players. His first coach was his dad, Butch Ryan, who taught him how to play the point guard position. It is said that point guards often make the best coaches, because they always know where everyone should be on a given play and also when the ball should be swung to the other side of the court. Not everyone has the makeup to be a point guard, or a head coach, but Bo Ryan does.
Ryan started his collegiate coaching career at Wisconsin in 1976 as an assistant, and stayed until 1984. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin basketball at that time was a combination of the Sixers this year mixed with Northwestern every year. Despite the poor record of the team, Ryan was tabbed as the next head coach of UW-Platteville for the 1984 season. Ryan posted a career D-III winning percentage of .820 and won four national championships for the Pioneers. In the 90s, Ryan's Platteville teams had the best winning percentage of any college basketball team at any level; winning at just over a 90% clip.
The unprecedented success that Ryan had at UW-Platteville lead UW-Milwaukee to give him a call in 1999, and hand over the reigns to an underachieving program. Under Ryan, UWM had their first winning season in six years. The siren song of the Badgers kept calling, though, and after Dick Bennett retired following the Badgers 2000 Final Four run (and two games of the 2001 season and Brad Soderberg finished out the year), Wisconsin offered Ryan the top job in the state, you know for basketball. He wasn't made governor.
Listing Ryan's accomplishments at UW would be a long and foolhardy endeavor, and besides, most know them already. He's never had a Badgers team finish below fourth in the conference (winning the conference three times and the conference tournament twice), he's never missed the NCAA Tournament, he's made the Sweet 16 four times, the Elite Eight once, and if you missed the beginning of this post, he's also made the Final Four once.
The Final Four has always been the brass ring that Ryan failed to grab in his previous 12 seasons, but that didn't stop him from attending every year with his father. As has been noted everywhere else on the internet, Butch Ryan was a much bigger deal than Bo. Butch knew everyone and always had a joke or a story to tell.
Butch's birthday was this past Saturday, he would have been 90, and the Wisconsin crowd was littered with "This one's for Butch" signs. Unfortunately for Bo, and the Chester community, Butch passed away last August. Bo gave an emotional post-game interview after Wisconsin's Elite Eight win, and clearly his father was foremost in his thoughts.
Bo Ryan did not need a Final Four berth to cement his legacy in Wisconsin basketball lore. He's already the most successful coach in program history, and has lead the team to unprecedented heights. But you and I both know, there would always feel like unfinished business for Ryan if he never lead the Badgers to the last weekend of the season.
All this talk of family and legacy cementing may make Ryan seem like he's taken a calmer, more balanced approach to the season, but his two technical fouls in the Tournament so far beg to differ. That's always been the great thing about Ryan as a basketball coach, he is fiery and unyielding on the court, but disarmingly charming and laid back off the court.
Bo Ryan has been a through a lot in the past year, but he doesn't deserve this Final Four berth. He earned it, and that's how he'd want it anyways.