Do we already know who the next head basketball coach at Wisconsin will be?
Bo Ryan announced that the upcoming 2015-16 season will be his last in a statement released Monday. In that statement, he also said that his preference his to have current associate head coach Greg Gard take over the reins of the program.
Ryan's words weren't subtle, but for some reason, many across the Internet seemed to dismiss them and threw together lists of potential coaching candidates for the soon-to-be vacancy.
But would athletics director Barry Alvarez really go outside the program when the departing Ryan named his pick for his successor in his retirement announcement?
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It doesn't seem too likely, especially considering that Alvarez himself was in a similar situation not too long ago, retiring after his tenure as the Badgers' head football coach and hand picking Bret Bielema to be his successor. Alvarez famously got burned when Bielema fled to Arkansas, and it happened again when Gary Andersen departed for Oregon State just two years after taking over for Bielema. But Alvarez then picked another Wisconsin guy in Paul Chryst, who will begin his first season running the show this fall.
So wouldn't Alvarez honor Ryan's wishes, honor the guy who's taken the basketball program to unprecedented heights in his 14 years in Madison?
Gard spoke Monday in an interview on the Mike Heller Show on 1070 AM in Madison, and he wasn't acting like he had the job quite yet.
“It’s obviously an honor. You’re extremely humbled by it," Gard said of being named in Ryan's statement. "Obviously, Bo and my relationship is very good, and we’ve been together for a long, long time — I think 22 years, to be exact. So it’s obviously been very humbling. You don’t know exactly how to respond to it or react to it. But it’s something as time goes on and this process plays itself out down the road, hopefully I’m part of that process and we’ll see where it goes. But I’m extremely honored by Bo to be able to make that type of comment about me. Our relationship goes back for a long, long time through a lot of good things that have happened, not only in this program but the other places we’ve been, as well. It’s a very humbling statement for him to make.”
As he mentioned, Gard has served as Ryan's assistant for a long time. He's been at Wisconsin for all of Ryan's 14 years as head coach, and prior to that, he was with Ryan at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Platteville.
Gard might not be as big a name as some other former Ryan assistants who have gone on to head-coaching gigs at UW-Milwaukee (Rob Jeter), Ohio (Saul Phillips) and most famously Virginia (Tony Bennett). But what Gard can guarantee is a smooth, consistent transition running a show extremely similar to the one Ryan has run for the last decade and a half.
Gard spoke to that while talking about recruiting, saying that the staff has always sold the school more than the head coach and throwing around the words "stability" and "continuity" quite a bit. You can almost see this as a template for a pitch to Alvarez, be it from Gard or Ryan.
"I think the one thing that has always been great about this place, regardless of sport, is that you recruit to the university more so than you do a specific individual," Gard said. "And the academic pieces of it, our facilities, our tradition, the fan base, all those things are what we probably sell more than any one individual. And we always do it as a group, any recruit gets a chance to know all of us. And I think another thing is our stability our staff has had. I’ve been here the entire 14 years that coach Ryan has been here, obviously Gary (Close) has been here a long time, and Lamont (Paris) has joined us here in the last four or five years. There’s been incredible stability, incredible continuity within our staff, and that’s huge when it comes to a point of all being on the same page and delivering the right message to the young men that you’re talking to and those families.”
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It would be a bit of a surprise if Alvarez chose to ignore Ryan's call for Gard to take over the program following the 2015-16 season. But Gard is smartly not counting his chickens before they hatch.
“I’m sure that once they get to the point where they decide, they’ll have to post the job just like any other university job before," Gard said. "And there’ll be a posting process, and there’ll be a hiring process that I’m sure coach Alvarez will head up and go through with whatever people he puts on the committee or whoever’s involved with that. That will be in the hands of coach Alvarez and the people that do the hiring process. So in terms of what’s next for me, I don't know.
"What’s next for me is making sure this team is ready to go for ’15-16 and focusing on that. And whatever happens beyond that down the road, as the process unfolds and steps are unveiled on what needs to happen, hopefully I’ll be involved with that.”