In what was supposed to be a relatively quiet week across the college basketball landscape due to finals week, legendary Wisconsin Badger coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement after the Badgers took care of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 64-49 Tuesday night.
Ryan's tenure - or renaissance of Wisconsin basketball - is hall of fame worthy to say the least. According to the official Wisconsin Basketball twitter page, there were only four 20-win seasons before Ryan manned the sidelines. Since Ryan came on board 14 seasons ago, the Badgers have boasted an impressive 25.1 wins per season. The "stat line" of the Bo Ryan era in Madison is one of iconic status. Ryan commandeered the Badgers to two Final Fours, seven Big Ten Titles, an astonishing 14 NCAA tournament appearances and has etched his spot atop the most wins in school history list (364).
Following in the footsteps of a legend is no easy feat. It's easy for all of the college basketball pundits to look at possible candidates on who will fill the head coaching void, and rightfully so as a perennial contender will draw national attention. There are many distinguished names being tossed around for consideration, but with the endorsement of Bo Ryan, long-time assistant Greg Gard is not someone who should be dismissed so easily.
With many high-profile head coaching vacancies or changes, it's not uncommon for the top assistant to get the first crack and proving his worth as a head coach. It should come as no surprise that Gard was named the Interim Head Coach. Gard is in his 15th season with the Badgers and has spent over 20 years as an assistant to Ryan. Gard was held in such high regard throughout his coaching career that he was announced as the associate head coach of the Badgers in 2008.
Having a hands-on advantage of the nuances and intricacies of the Badger system will play in Gard's favor, as he's been around the program for quite some time. Last month, Gard was named the fourth best "X&O" assistant coach in college basketball. Having the ability to dissect offensive and defensive sets has given the Badgers the feeling of having two established head coaches on the sidelines - former Badger guard Josh Gasser expressed his thought on that during his recent tenure in Madison.
Gard has a leg up on candidates with established relationships in the recruiting world. It's no secret Wisconsin enjoys keeping top Wisconsin prospects within state lines - over 40% of players on the current roster hail from the Badger state.
Coming from a long line of assistant coaching positions within the state has awarded Gard the respect of his peers and others deeply involved in the college basketball circuit. Gard started at Southwestern HS in Wisconsin in 1990 and after four years in the prep ranks which included a one year stop at Platteville HS, the opportunity to move into the collegiate coaching carousel. Gard used stops at UW-Platteville and UW-Milwaukee before landing in Madison. Having the time to stay in one state for 25 years has been a positive facet in the Badgers retaining commitments from the top in-state prospects.
Assistant coaches are mostly responsible for developing relationships with high school recruits, while the head coaches swoop in to close the deal. Gard was instrumental in cashing in on commitments from Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Alex Illikainen, Khalil Iverson and Andy Van Vliet, among others.
Those within the Badger community recognize the relevance of why coach Ryan handed the reigns over to Gard. Not only is he respected by his peers, but also the players who have played under him. With his vast knowledge of not only the X's and O's of the sport, but the Badger program as a whole, the swift move to anoint him Interim Head Coach makes sense. With the probable head coaching search looming over the program and a rocky start to the 2015 season, it remains to be seen if Gard will be able to have the interim tag removed from his name. With a wealth of basketball knowledge and experience, established recruiting relationships around the state and the endorsement from Bo Ryan, Greg Gard has a leg up on the competition.