University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement following the Badgers’ 64-49 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday night.
About 20 minutes after the final buzzer, Ryan walked into the Kohl Center media room. An athletic department official announced Ryan would make an opening statement, something he almost never does.
Ryan went on to say that he would step aside immediately. UW associate head coach Greg Gard, Ryan’s longtime assistant, will take over the team on an interim basis and will coach his first game when the Badgers close non-conference play with a game against visiting UW-Green Bay on Dec. 23.
“It's so emotional right now,” Ryan said. “And I'm trying to hold this together.”
Ryan ends his 32-career on the college level with a 747-233 record, including 364-130 at UW. He led the Badgers to at least a share of four Big Ten regular-season championships and three conference tournament titles.
The Badgers advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of Ryan’s first 14 seasons, with seven trips to the Sweet 16. UW entered this season coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, including a loss to Duke in last season’s title game.
“His record speaks for itself,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “He's a legend.”
Gard, who turned 45 earlier this month, has been an assistant under Ryan for more than two decades.
Ryan announced over the summer that this would be his 15th and final season at UW, but he later said that might not be the case after all.
On the eve of the start of practice in October, Ryan made it clear he would not be answering questions about his retirement, telling the State Journal his “juices are flowing” and this season was “not about me.”
Later that month, while attending Big Ten media day in Chicago, Ryan was asked repeatedly about the retirement announcement and subsequent backtracking. At the time, he made it clear he would coach through the year and then decide, with the possibility he would continue to coach multiple seasons.
“I was just trying to do the right thing by people who have been very loyal to me,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t going to do to Wisconsin, or to Barry or the administration, all of a sudden about this time of year, ‘You know what, I’m going to retire,’ and then you have to move a guy into the interim position. I wasn’t going to do that. That’s not me.”
Ryan had a speech prepared on a sheet of paper on Tuesday night but never used it. Instead, he spoke from the heart for about 10 minutes before leaving without taking questions. He left the room with his wife Kelly by his side.
Ryan said he would have stepped away back in June had it not been for the fact that Gard’s father was going through an illness. Glen Gard was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer, in May and died on Oct. 30.
“Barry and I had been talking: What’s a good time?” Ryan said. “What we came down to was semester. This is semester. We start finals and I wanted to give coach Gard plenty of time to get the guys ready and to get them into the position where as a head coach he has a chance … to take a run at the job.”
When Ryan was finished speaking, Alvarez and Gard took his place in front of the microphones.
“You never know when opportunity is going to knock,” Gard said, “but you’ve got to be ready for it.”
UW junior guard Zak Showalter called Ryan’s announcement “sad.”
Junior forward Nigel Hayes, who said on multiple occasions he couldn’t see Ryan stepping down following the 2015-16 season, sensed something different when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.
“Bo and I never made eye contact and this game we did,” Hayes said. “He had the saddest look I’ve ever seen him have when we looked at each other. I guess now it makes sense why he looked like that.”
Ryan, who will turn 68 on Sunday, began his coaching career began in 1972 at a junior high school in his native Pennsylvania. He began his collegiate coaching career a year later as an assistant under Bill Cofield at Dominican College of Racine and later served as UW assistant for eight seasons under Cofield and Steve Yoder.
In 1984, Ryan took over a struggling UW-Platteville program and eventually turned into an NCAA Division III powerhouse. Ryan went 353-76 in 15 seasons with the Pioneers, winning four national titles during that span.
He made the move to Division I in 1999, spending two seasons at UW-Milwaukee before being hired by UW athletic director Pat Richter in 2001.
The Badgers went 19-13 and earned a share of the Big Ten title in Ryan’s first season. UW never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten under Ryan and produced a .717 winning percentage (172-68) in conference play, the best winning percentage in Big Ten history for coaches with at least five years on the job.
On Wednesday morning, UW’s all-time winningest coach is scheduled to depart for a pre-planned vacation to Palm Springs, California.
“I’ll see you down the road,” Ryan said.