Ryan retires at midseason, ending successful Wisconsin run

Posted at 5:17 AM, Dec 16, 2015

The methodical brand of basketball that Bo Ryan ran at Wisconsin rarely surprised opponents as it piled up wins and two trips to the Final Four over the last two seasons.

Ryan saved the biggest shocker of his career for his final game.

The 67-year-old coach abruptly retired on Tuesday night, 12 games into the season after his Badgers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi two weeks before Big Ten play begins.

No farewell tour. No muss, no fuss.

Just the way he wanted it. Ryan had discussed retirement for months, but never offered any specific timetable.

"It is so emotional right now, and I'm trying to hold this together," Ryan said as he began to wrap up his remarks.

He had a prepared speech ready to go, printed on a white piece of paper, but decided at the last second to set it aside and speak from the heart in his last news conference as head coach.

"Can't put that into words," Ryan said. "I can't do that. I've got to tell you how I feel."

It was classic Bo — rarely shy to hold back, whether it was about a call, his team or the future.

And it's in part what started the "Will he or won't he?" retire drama in the first place.

Ryan, who turns 68 on Sunday, said in June this would be his last season. He had told athletic director Barry Alvarez of his plans after the Final Four in April, but Alvarez advised him to give it some time, and not to make a decision right after the end of the season.

At a charity golf event in August, Ryan left the door open to return.

In making his announcement on Tuesday, Ryan revealed another factor in the timing. He said he would have retired in June, but associate head coach Greg Gard's father had just been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Ryan said the demands on Gard's time to fly around the country meeting with doctors and helping his dad put his retirement on the back burner. The elder Gard died on Oct. 30.

Ryan later talked to Alvarez. He said that he came to a decision in recent weeks that the semester break would be a good time to step down.

Gard was named the interim head coach by Alvarez.

"Every coach would like their top assistant to be the coach," Ryan said after the 64-49 victory in his final game.

Gard is considered one of the top assistants in the game. He has worked with Ryan for 20 seasons, including 14-plus years in Madison.

He still has a tough act to follow.

With 364 victories, Ryan is Wisconsin's winningest coach.

Ryan finished with a career mark of 747-233, good for 27th on the NCAA career wins list when counting successful tenures at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. He won four national titles at Platteville.

But it's in the Big Ten where Ryan especially made his mark with 14 straight NCAA appearances and seven conference championships. In 2014-15, his final full season, Wisconsin finished a school record 36-4 and advanced to the NCAA title game, losing to Duke.

Those squads relied on upperclassmen and defense in an era of one-of-done headliners. Ryan molded offensive stars, for sure, like Sam Dekker and 2014-15 national player of the year Frank Kaminsky, but players knew they had to play defense and play with smarts to earn time.

"Thank you Coach Ryan for molding me into a young man," Dekker, who is now a rookie with the Houston Rockets, posted on Twitter. Dekker left after his junior season.

"Wish I could argue with you one more time," Dekker wrote. "All love to Pops!!"

Ryan drew national criticism in 2012 when he tried to restrict forward Jarrod Uthoff from transferring from Wisconsin to another Big Ten school. Uthoff ended up transferring anyway to his home state Iowa Hawkeyes after redshirting for a season.

Ryan could certainly be brusque. He tended to have a relatively quiet sideline demeanor during games, but wasn't shy to express his displeasure with calls.

Ryan seemed to be in his element especially at practice, where he loved to teach. Off the court, he could be a charmer and command a room with his stories.

A native of the Philadelphia suburb of Chester, Ryan still had a hint of a Philly accent and street-smart persona even after all these years in Midwest.

He considered it a joy to be able to lead the Badgers six months longer than he had anticipated.

"But I knew, I knew the energy level ... the speaking, the traveling, the trying to do other things, to help other people — I enjoy doing it, but the thing was, I felt it was time," said Ryan, his eyes appearing to well up with tears. "But I couldn't make the decision at the time."

That time finally came on Tuesday.