Bo Ryan has believed for a long time that Greg Gard is ready to run a program.
Gard will get that chance on an interim basis after Ryan announced Tuesday night that he’s stepping down as the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach.
“Greg’s ready,” Ryan said after the Badgers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 64-49 at the Kohl Center. “The staff is ready. All the way through — top-flight people and I feel really good about that. His record as an assistant coach — I told the team that there are people who have received head coaching jobs who were assistants in places, without anywhere near the record that (Gard) has. Not even close.”
The Ryan-Gard partnership spans more than two decades, to when Ryan was in the process of building an NCAA Division III national powerhouse at UW-Platteville and the latter was a college student chasing a dream.
Gard was coaching in the high school ranks and helping out at Platteville when he could when Ryan pulled him into his office following the 1993-94 season and delivered a message: You need to be with me full time.
Ryan’s had Gard, who grew up in tiny Cobb in southwestern Wisconsin, by his side ever since.
“I’ll forever be grateful to him for that,” Gard said.
Ryan’s decision to retire after the season began was shocking and similar to what Dick Bennett did early in the 2000-01 season.
Bennett, citing health reasons, stepped aside three games into the season after leading the Badgers to the Final Four the previous spring and handed the team to his top assistant. Brad Soderberg went 16-10 in an interim role and wasn’t retained after UW lost to Georgia State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, which followed an early loss in the Big Ten tournament.
Gard takes over the Badgers (7-5) with one game to go in the non-conference season. UW will host UW-Green Bay on Dec. 23 before beginning Big Ten play at home vs. Purdue Dec. 29.
“The baton has been passed,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “I’m excited for (Gard).”
Ryan, Alvarez and Gard all spoke to the Badgers in the locker room following the win.
“I shared with them the same thing I’ve shared with two football teams in the last three years: Don’t be afraid of change. You’ll have change the rest of your life. Embrace change. Grow from change. Take what you learn from coach Ryan.”
Alvarez said it was a day to celebrate Ryan’s accomplishments and also the time “for an outstanding young coach to take the bull by the horns.”
That’s exactly what Gard, 45, plans to do. One of his first orders of business today will be to meet with administrators to figure out how to fill out the coaching staff.
“Those guys are extremely important to me in that locker room,” Gard said. “I know that they will definitely rally around this.
“It’s an unbelievable place that I’m fortunate to be part of, and I’m looking forward to helping these guys continue on their journey.”