Bo Ryan and success go hand in hand with each other. The long time head coach has literally never had a losing season since he became a head coach in 1999 and since taking over the Badgers he has made it to the NCAA Tournament every single season, only winning less than 20 games once since the 2002 season ended. Bo Ryan is Wisconsin basketball and what he has done in Madison has been beyond impressive.
That being said, Bo Ryan is also 67 years old and will turn 68 before conference play starts this upcoming season. The harsh reality for Wisconsin fans was that Ryan was going to retire eventually and that's what was announced this offseason when Ryan said he would be retiring after the following season. The plan for Ryan was to retire after one last season, with the legendary coach hoping Athletic Director (and former Wisconsin football head coach) Barry Alvarez would promote longtime assistant Greg Gard to head coach.
Fast forward to this week and now Ryan's plan seems a bit less certain.
"Everybody kind of thinks they know when they're ready to retire, or step aside. I’m not totally sure. Barry said I could change my mind at any time. I haven’t submitted any papers yet. I haven’t submitted anything," mentioned Ryan at a recent charity golf event. "As I was telling someone earlier, some of the offers these people made tonight, they made some offers I can’t refuse. So I might stay for another four or five."
Well that was certainly a bit unexpected. Of course with the runaway success Ryan has had at that program, I don't think many people would mind if he wavered and decided to stay on as head coach. At the same time, the "am I coming back or am I gonna retire?" talk year after year usually doesn't pan out very well for those who try it, but there's a real possibility if Ryan would return and remain successful all would be forgiven.
What I'm curious about here, though, is the context behind Ryan's comments. He mentions the possibility of returning and points out that he has every opportunity to do so if he desires, but will he? Anyone who has ever had to leave something they've spent so much time of their life doing struggles facing the next step and the idea of Ryan wanting to remain in Madison like he has for so long isn't a surprise. The question now is if Ryan is merely stating the possible scenario of him returning, possibly because he has doubts he actually wants to retire, or if his comments are because he's legitimately wanting to stay for a few more years.
One of the more interesting comments by Ryan that hasn't been as widely reported on compared to his quote pertaining to retirement was what he said about why he made the June announcement.
"Well, I needed to get a statement out there knowing I wasn't able to tell recruits I could guarantee them four years and I wanted to be fair to our staff and Barry," Ryan stated. That makes things particularly more interesting because it creates the possibility of Ryan simply putting it out there that he might retire in order to not potentially upset any recruits or cause any issues within the athletic department. It now allows Alvarez to work on a potential replacement, one that Ryan can now sell to the school's AD, and it allows Ryan to be painstakingly honest with recruits over the fact that he might not be there for their entire careers.
Of course this puts Wisconsin in an interesting position from a recruiting standpoint as now Ryan has to lure in talent that knows he'll probably be gone before they graduate. It creates sort of a lame duck environment where players could be signing up for a team that might not have Ryan on campus when they arrive in the summer. Even trickier is while Ryan wants Gard to take over the top spot, the school hasn't made any moves to make it known that that'll be the intended plan for Wisconsin. This of course has led to speculation that Ryan's decision to stay may have some ulterior motives.
Either way this entire situation is going to be interesting to watch play out because Ryan has done so much for Wisconsin basketball that the school and fan base should simply allow him to do what he pleases. At the same time, though, the indecision of Ryan staying or going (especially if it plays out until next offseason, with a delayed announcement of his returning for another year or two) could easily wreck havoc on the Badger's ability to recruit talented players to Madison. Of course Ryan has done a considerable job developing talent from a laundry list of under the radar recruits, but the reality of not knowing who'll be your coach can't be much of a selling point.
Seriously, what would happen if Ryan does stay for another year or two and recruiting flat lines because of said decision? Even if Bo finds a way to improbably remain successful with a depleted roster, he could be setting up Gard or whoever becomes the next coach with a thin and over-matched roster that will struggle in the Big Ten. If he leaves the university with a bad hand of cards what would it do to his legacy? Or if each season becomes the rampant, ESPN led "will he stay or go" speculation, how will it wear on the fanbase?
Of course it's the tail end of summer and we're still a few months from basketball being played. College basketball fans are craving the sport and are going to latch onto a story like this. The reality is Ryan could be like so many people struggling with leaving the sport he truly loves. And his comments, while creating speculation of him returning, could simply be that...speculation. Ryan knows he can return and he's talking about it, but now the question is will he return. And to be honest I think when everything is said and done Ryan is about ready to call it a career, even if Wisconsin fans wish he would still be here for another five or ten years instead.