Perhaps Bo Ryan isn't quite ready for his swan song.
Speaking at a U.S. Venture Open golf charity event in Kaukauna, Wis., Wednesday night, Ryan acknowledged that he's leaving the door open for the possibility of him coaching the Badgers beyond the upcoming 2015-16 season. In June, Ryan announced that he would coach Wisconsin for one more season before retiring. In his statement, he acknowledged his desire for longtime assistant Greg Gard to replace him.
Ryan is famously verbose, so his comments should most likely be read as those of a Wisconsin coaching legend who just hasn't decided anything concrete yet. But by acknowledging the possibility of him coaching beyond this season, the 67-year-old Ryan left a very, very enticing door open.
"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 (Alvarez) and the athletic department," said Ryan, who was a guest speaker for the reception-dinner portion of the event at Van Abel's.
"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. 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.
"I just wanted to get it out there that I'm not going to be able to do this forever. But who can say one year? Who can say that? I simply cut to the chase by saying I'll do another year and we'll see what happens in the next number of months.
When asked if that meant he's leaving the door open toward returning for more than a final season, Ryan replied: "I am."
A number of factors are likely at play here. One, as Ryan mentioned, is the presence of athletic director Barry Alvarez and his understandable willingness to let Ryan decide whenever he's ready. Ryan's earned it, of course: 14 NCAA tournament appearances in 14 seasons, two Final Four runs in the last two seasons, a 357-125 record over that period and zero regular-season Big Ten finishes outside of the top four.
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Another major factor is the current shape of Wisconsin's program. The Badgers lost national player of the year Frank Kaminsky and standout wing Sam Dekker to the first round of the NBA draft, as well as seniors Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. Aside from rising juniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, that's every key player from last year's rotation that had the Badgers minutes short of the national championship.
Wisconsin's starting five for next season remains generally unsettled beyond Hayes and Koenig, something Ryan touched on Wednesday night.
"This will be the youngest team I've ever had," Ryan said. "I will not have a senior on scholarship for the first time. A lot of minutes, points and rebounds will be gone. So we'll have to see how fast we grow. We can only get them in the gym for so many hours. We'll have to see how quickly they pick up our reads offensively and what is expected defensively. We'll see what kind of learning curve they're on."
Say Wisconsin endures a typical growing-pains season afforded to major programs facing significant turnover. Would Ryan really want to leave on that note? Would Alvarez feel comfortable handing the program over to Gard, who would be a first-time head coach, following such a season?
These questions won't be answered until after this season, of course, which means we're still set for one heck of a farewell tour as it stands. Perhaps it was the one-of-a-kind personalities brought to the team by the likes of Dekker and Kaminsky, but Wisconsin's always managed to foster a trademark moxie that, if it didn't translate to elite performance on the court, at least made the team incredibly fun to follow. You get the sense that even if these last two Final Four runs hadn't happened, Ryan would've called the past two teams his favorites at Wisconsin.
Another thing: even after his stunning announcement in June, Ryan wasn't exactly in retirement mode yet. From B5Q's report from the day-after press conference:
When asked if he's leaving the door open to changing his mind, Ryan might have left a slight, slight crack.
"I have a five-year contract," Ryan said. "How open is that? But I just have to be fair to the institution and the people that are here, in that, 'You know guys? I might just step back." And I didn't realize it was that big a deal to some people."
Any concerns about Ryan's fire subsiding in his final season were also quickly squashed.
"This isn't going to be some swan song," Ryan said.
That's far from conclusive -- and it's also coming after Ryan showed up to that media session like this:
Typical Bo Ryan, for sure. But, as he himself said Wednesday night, "I wouldn't be the first guy in the country that ever thought about retirement and then changed their mind. I'm not doing anything revolutionary here."