The future of Wisconsin basketball received an accelerated, if unwanted, trajectory earlier this summer when, largely out of nowhere, Bo Ryan announced his plans to retire after this upcoming season. Later on -- really, as soon as the following day -- those plans were quickly revised to, more or less, a wait-and-see approach.
At a charity event in mid-August, Ryan said he was leaving the door open for the possibility of coaching beyond the 2015-16 season. He noted how young the Badgers will be this year without Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, and seemed excited by the fact -- what a challenge for a Hall of Fame-caliber coach.
"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," Ryan told reporters at the event in Kaukauna, Wis.
Tuesday, Sports Illustrated published a story on Ryan by Seth Davis, and it provides some clarity regarding a few aspects. Definitely click over the full read, but here are the central points.
Barry Alvarez was surprised, but understands Ryan's consideration of retirement
Wisconsin's athletic director has said throughout this retirement saga that he thought Ryan would basically coach until he physically no longer could. He repeated that to SI, saying, "People have asked me how much longer he's going to coach, and I always said you're gonna have to wheel him out of here on a gurney."
One new element to the story, which is pretty interesting for Badgers fans who remember Alvarez's path to becoming AD, is that Alvarez was reminded of his own retirement from coaching UW's football team. He retired after the 2005 season with his replacement, Bret Bielema, already queued up to takeover the reigns via a seamless transition. Alvarez was 58 at the time, not exactly young but also not so old in coaching circles (especially back then), and he thought he would be unable to juggle both head coaching duties and athletic directors (he earned that title the year before). Turns out, he later came to regret stepping away so soon, he told SI.
"I made my decision too soon," he said. "I told Bo to take a little time off. It was too close to the [championship] game, and he needed to get his emotions out of it. I didn't want him to make the mistake that I made."
Former coaches miss coaching all the time, but these comments seem particularly stark from Alvarez. It seems likely they played a factor in his subsequent two "returns" to the sidelines for Wisconsin's bowl games to cap the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
Ryan including Greg Gard in his statement was his call, and it's possible Alvarez just couldn't comply
When Ryan did announce his plans to retire after this upcoming season, he named longtime assistant Greg Gard as his chosen successor. Of course, the hiring decision will come down to Alvarez, as long as he's athletic director. But when Alvarez addressed the statement, he stopped short of confirming that Gard was next in line. Instead, he stated the need for a national search and for him to hire the best candidate possible, whomever that was.
None of Alvarez's responses were too shocking, but they did prompt some fans to wonder about Alvarez's opinion of Gard. In reality, as touched on in the previous paragraph, Alvarez just wasn't in a position to say anything conclusive regarding Gard and the possible coaching vacancy. From SI:
Alvarez was not surprised to hear Ryan's wishes, but he was not willing to adopt his plan. In the first place, Wisconsin is a public school, so it must follow state guidelines by posting the vacancy for at least seven days and then conducting a thorough search. Even if that weren't the case, however, Alvarez did not want to designate a coach-in-waiting. Although Alvarez did tap his then-defensive coordinator, Bret Bielema, as his successor before the start of the 2005 football season. "At the time I was the athletic director, so every situation is a little bit different," Alvarez said. "I said to Bo, I can't just let you name the coach. I want you to be our coach, but if you're not going to be our coach, I want to hire the best guy possible. If that's Greg, then it will be Greg. I have a lot of respect for Greg and Bo knows that, but I have to let the process play out."
Ryan isn't seeing this saga as "wishy washiness"
This isn't surprising: Ryan always speaks his mind, and he's earned the right. "Saga" might even be too harsh of a word: this situation has been amicable from the start, and it's very difficult to imagine that changing. The worst-case perspective is that this is "perceived" as a distraction once the season starts, but come on: does anyone think Ryan can't coach through that?
When [Davis] spoke to him last week, he would not concede that he had backtracked on anything. Nor did he sound like he was in a retiring state of mind. "There isn't any wishy washiness," Ryan said. "People can interpret it any way they want, but in the state of Wisconsin you have to file papers to retire. There have been no papers filed. I'm going to decide after the season exactly what I'm going to do."
Again, be sure to read the full SI story. Gard is quoted, and Ryan acknowledges that it's "exciting" to enter a season with the question marks that 2015-16 will present.