I was texting with friend of the blog, and friend of me, Luke Mueller last week about the Badgers basketball team and head coach Greg Gard and Luke said he had some thoughts about potential coaching replacements. I said “write ‘em up, baby.” And here we are! - Drew
Hello friend, *Cue Mr. Robot GIF*
It has been a while since we’ve spoken. It’s me, your old pal Luke Mueller who covered the football and basketball beats here from 2014-2015. I’ve come back to bring up a topic that I’ve seen a lot from Badgers basketball fans.
The future of Greg Gard.
Now, let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. I’m NOT calling for Greg Gard’s job. He’s gone 85-52 (62% win percentage) and 46-30 (61%) in the Big Ten, which is a pretty good track record especially when you consider the rough 2017-2018 season.
I also like to think of myself as a realist, so I know this season shaping up to be a tough fight to get into the NCAA Tournament. If the Badgers miss the tournament for the second time in three years, with a group that is now fully Greg Gard’s recruits, a large subset of the fanbase will be ready to move on. And I understand the sentiment. The Badgers have been to the tournament 20 of the last 21 years, so that would be new territory that nobody wants to trek into.
With all of that said, let’s talk about what would happen if the Badgers miss the tournament and what’s next if they decide to move on from Greg Gard.
Many weren’t sold when Bo Ryan thrust Gard into the head coaching role after his abrupt retirement. That feeling was calmed for a bit after Greg Gard brought the 2015-2016 team back from the dead to go to a Sweet 16, following back-to back Final Fours. The 2016-2017 campaign was much of the same, with Gard in his first full year reaching another Sweet Sixteen until a brutal buzzer beat to end a 27-10 season.
That next season however didn’t go very well, with the Badgers experiencing the first losing season and missed NCAA tournament since 1997-98. After that season in certain corners of the internet you could hear whispers about Gard’s future starting to crop up.
Gard put that losing season behind him, along with questions of his competency, with a fourth place finish in the Big Ten and a 23-11 season in 2018-19. The season, however, finished rather poorly from a shooting perspective, which became evident with the upset loss to Oregon (Oregon was grossly mis-seeded, but we’ll leave that for another day). The Badgers shot just 33% overall and 20% from beyond the arc.
Those problems have continued into this year as the Badgers have shot miserably in all four losses this year.
UW has shot 29.6% from 3 over its last 19 games entering tonight.— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) December 5, 2019
Things don’t get any easier for the Badgers as they enter Big Ten after a 1-1 start and loss to Rutgers on the road. They still have to travel to Knoxville to face the No. 19 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. When the Badgers restart Big Ten play in the new year, they face a brutal opening schedule, on the road against Ohio State, home against Illinois, road game at a very good Penn State team, home against Maryland and finally on the road at the Breslin Center to face Michigan State.
If we’re being honest with each other, the Badgers will pull off a miracle if they can go 3-2 in that stretch, but are more likely to go 2-3 or 1-4 (Editor’s note: or ::gulp:: 0-5?) through that gauntlet.
Looking further down the line, The Badgers realistically need to go 10-8 in conference to be a bubble team at 18-13 in the regular season (and that would be with a surprise win against Tennessee on the road). They’d then likely need at least one win in the Big Ten tournament to secure a spot.
The Barry Alvarez Conundrum
So IF, and that’s a big IF, Barry Alvarez wanted to evaluate who’s available to replace Greg Gard, where would he turn? We all know Barry thinks Wisconsin is a top destination in all of college sports, and I don’t disagree with him. At the same time, Wisconsin doesn’t pay their head coach like it’s a top job, nor has Alvarez shown the propensity to pay football or basketball coaches as though they’re a top destination.
While Tony Granato’s men’s hockey contract has been assumed to be the largest in college hockey at $600,000, the other coaches of sports considered to be revenue generating sports (volleyball, football, and men’s basketball) are not near the top of their sport.
Kelly Sheffield has been reported to likely be the No. 4 highest paid coach in the Big Ten despite going to seven straight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet Sixteens (cheer on your Badgers at the Field House on Friday afternoon), three Elite Eights, and an NCAA Finalist finish. This figure does put him in the top ten nationally in salary.
Paul Chryst is the No. 26 highest paid coach in the NCAA and is No. 10 highest paid head coach in the Big Ten now that P.J. Fleck got a new deal, despite having three Big Ten West titles, five straight bowl appearances and never losing a bowl game. He has a 79 percent winning percentage overall (52-14) and a 77 percent conference win percentage (34-10). Alvarez has also shown a lack of willingness to retain assistants on the football team to keep their talent. (Here’s my public plea, please pay Jim Leonhard whatever he wants!)
Back to the topic at hand.
That then brings us to Greg Gard. He makes roughly two million dollars a year, and according to WatchStadium.com, is tied for the No. 43 highest paid coach in the country and No. 7 highest in the Big Ten (though not a full list of salaries across the country as not every school has disclosed their coaches salaries). Gard has a buyout of 1.5 million dollars if fired without cause before May 31, 2020 and one million if between June 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021.
After paying Gard’s buyout of 1.5 million dollars, the Wisconsin Athletic Department probably won’t be looking to increase the head coach’s salary much, but for the sake of argument, let’s say they allocate an extra one million dollars to the coaching salary and creep into the top-25 of coaches salaries to entice a bigger name. Being realistic, I don’t see them going much higher than three million dollars a year for anyone (Bo Ryan never made more than 2.4 million), but we’ll continue down this road.
The Ones on Everyone’s Wish List
We know that Barry Alvarez either likes to hire people with ties back to the University (Chryst, Bret Bielema, Granato) or coaches with previous head coaching experience at mid-majors (Sheffield, former football coach Gary Andersen, and current women’s basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis).
Because of that, let’s evaluate what options Barry would have.
The top two names on all Badgers fans’ wish list, and likely Barry’s too: Tony Bennett and Shaka Smart. Both have Wisconsin ties, great resumes and would reinvigorate a fan base with top coaching talent.
Here’s the thing, Tony Bennett turned down a much deserved raise at Virginia after winning last year’s National Championship. If that doesn’t signal he’s committed to staying, I’m not sure what does. Wisconsin’s window to lure him away was likely after his top seeded Cavaliers lost to No. 16 seed UMBC and there were rumors that boosters wanted him gone. His buyout, while not officially reported, is likely exorbitantly high (roughly 20 million reported by USA Today, though this figure is likely what the school would owe Bennett and not what he would or his school would owe). So let’s just agree that Tony Bennett isn’t coming back anytime soon.
Shaka Smart grew up in the Madison area. He had great success at VCU, including his 2011 Final Four trip, but has yet to see the same success at Texas. He’s 78-67 at Texas and 31-41 in conference. He’s yet to win an NCAA tournament game with the Longhorns, so maybe he’s looking for a change of scenery, but right now his team looks poised for a great year and is 7-1. His salary is 3.3 million dollars a year, so the Badgers would likely have to loosen the purse straps even more than the earlier proposed three million, meaning it would be an increase in allocated salary of nearly 75%. According to WatchStadium, his buyout is the amount equal to the remaining assistant coaches’ salaries. He’s also not likely leaving for the same or less salary given Texas spends the 4th most in the country on College Basketball Recruiting. Simply put, he’s got all the resources he needs to win in Austin. He likely isn’t leaving unless his seat gets really hot.
What’s Actually Realistic?
Now that we’ve dispelled those options as not being feasible, let’s look at coaches who are potentially attainable at roughly three million dollars a year salary or less and don’t possess an outrageous buyout. These coaches are realistically going to be coaches at successful mid-majors, Big East coaches, or middling Power 5 schools. As mentioned before, Alvarez has not shown an appetite to hire a coach without previous coaching experience.
Gregg Marshall - Wichita State
When thinking of mid-major coaches, Greg Marshall is always a hot name, especially after his run a few years ago with Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker leading the Wichita State teams that saw unprecedented success. He has led the Shockers to seven NCAA tournament appearances including one Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four in 2013. He will likely never feel his seat get warm in Wichita and currently is the No. 13 highest paid coach in all of basketball at 3.5 million dollars. It’d likely take doubling the current coaching salary to even get him to consider the opening and he likely has a buyout somewhere between his 2015 figure of 500,000 dollars and one million, though it’s not disclosed. Moral of the story, not happening.
Greg McDermott - Creighton
Greg McDermott has found good success in Nebraska. Since becoming the head coach in Omaha, he is 213-111. McDermott was previously the head coach at Northern Iowa (90-63) and Iowa State (59-68). His lack of production at a Power Five school in Iowa State is a bit of a red flag, but since leaving he’s had much success, reaching the NCAA tournament five times in his eight years and enduring only one season of fewer than 20 wins at Creighton.
He has never taken the Blue Jays past the second round of the NCAA tournament and has not won the Big East since Creighton joined the conference in 2013. Alvarez would have gotten a good look at McDermott’s coaching when the Badgers endured a 79-67 loss in 2016 (link to story). McDermott likes his spot at Creighton, but only makes 1.5 million dollars there. A nice salary bump to 2 or 2.5 million dollars may change his outlook.
Rick Stansbury - Western Kentucky
Stansbury’s name may be familiar to you for two reasons. First, he had a long, successful tenure at Mississippi State. He won the SEC regular season once, won the conference tournament twice, and was named SEC coach of the year in 2004. Second, his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers surprised Wisconsin last year in Bowling Green. He’s enjoyed a lifetime win percentage of 60% across his Mississippi State job and his current role at Western Kentucky. Between head coaching gigs, he was an assistant on Billy Kennedy’s staff at Texas A&M.
Stansbury has never taken a team past the second round of the NCAA tournament, but he has revitalized the Western Kentucky program, which only won 15 games in his first season to a 20 win team in each of the last two seasons. He has recruited really well at Western Kentucky, including landing Charles Bassey, the No. 6 best player in the country according to 247 Sports in 2018. His $650,000 salary could easily be doubled and his one million dollar buyout met. Stansbury may have the itch to get back to a big-time program, but let’s not forget he’s from Kentucky. Western Kentucky may be exactly where he wants to be.
LaVall Jordan - Butler
Former John Beilein assistant Lavall Jordan is an intriguing option. While only a head coach for a few years, he’s been a part of many successful coaching staffs. He was first an assistant at Butler (where he played), then Iowa, followed by a stop at Michigan. He then took over UW-Milwaukee in 2016 for only one season as his Panthers team went on an improbable run in the Horizon League Tournament and made the championship as a 10 seed. Jordan replaced Chris Holtmann in 2017, in which he lead Butler to an upset over then No. 1 Villanova.
While his record coming into this season wasn’t great, his 17-18 Butler team did advance to the second round of the tournament. His team is currently 8-1 with wins over Minnesota, Missouri, Stanford, and Ole Miss. They nearly beat No. 11 Baylor on the road, but lost 53-52. It would likely be tough to pry Jordan from his alma mater, but he has strong midwest and Big Ten ties.
Butler does not publicly disclose the terms of his contract other than he signed a six-year deal in 2017. His contract at UWM paid him $350,000, so it’s reasonable to suspect Jordan is not making more than one million dollars. He’s a young coach at 40, who is known as a players coach. He’s an intriguing candidate to take over if there was an opening.
Ben Jacobson - Northern Iowa
Ben Jacobson was once another hot name coach until he rebuffed a few inquiries. Jacobson and Wisconsin have some familiarity over the years, including most recently a 2017 scrimmage to raise money for Team Rubicon after hurricanes hit the Southern US and Caribbean.
Jacobson owns a 266-168 record currently at Northern Iowa. He’s visited the NCAA Tournament four times in his 13 previous years, with a cumulative 46-54 record in the last three seasons.
The success he’s had, or lack thereof, is a concern, but he has the Panthers out to a hot 9-1 start including wins against South Carolina and at No. 24 Colorado just last weekend. Jacobson makes $900,000 a year, so Greg Gard’s current salary would be a huge raise for him. With that being said, he has a 2.1 million dollar buyout built into his contract if hired after the season. As mentioned before, his lack of consistent success is a major red flag. He has gone to one Sweet Sixteen, but he’s no guarantee.
Leon Rice - Boise State
Last year was only the second time in Leon Rice’s nine years of coaching the Boise State Broncos that his team didn’t win 20 or more games. He’s taken Boise State to the NCAA tournament’s First Four twice in 2013 and 2015. He comes from the Mark Few coaching tree and was a long time assistant at Gonzaga. His career 181-119 lifetime record is nothing to scoff at, but he has yet to lead Boise State to become a perennial power in the Mountain West.
Last year his team went 13-20 and this year is off to a 5-3 start. Rice has proven to be a capable coach, but may not have what it takes at Wisconsin, especially given all of his previous stops have been out west. That would make recruiting in the midwest a bit harder. Rice’s $725,000 salary along with his $240,000 buyout would be more than manageable if Alvarez decided he wanted to go in this direction.
Brian Wardle - Bradley
Brian Wardle may be a familiar name to some as he was the head coach at UW-Green Bay from 2010-2015. Wardle lead the program on a turnaround, going from 14-18 in his first year to back-to-back 24 win seasons in his final two. He left Green Bay for another overhaul in Bradley as the Braves looked to regain clout in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wardle’s first year say his team go 5-27, but in his last two years has gotten to 20 wins and took Bradley to the NCAA Tournament last season.
Wardle’s overall record of 157-142 may not be impressive, nor is his 62-77 currently at Bradley, but he’s taken in two programs that needed a change in direction and has been able to create a turnaround. Wardle’s Wisconsin roots are evident (including his playing days at Marquette), so if the phone rang, I think there would be interest. With that said, the Badgers aren’t a rebuild, but rather looking for consistency. It’d be interesting to see how Wardle would fare with an already talented team. Wardle’s contract is just under half a million dollars per year.
Porter Moser - Loyola
Everyone wanted Porter Moser after he led Loyola on an unthinkable run to the Final Four in 2017. Moser, a Naperville, Illinois native, decided to stay put at Loyola rather than to take his pick of open jobs that he was offered. He’s still high on the list of potential coaches available, but let’s get realistic. His record at Loyola is 146-129. He’s only been to the tournament once, albeit a pretty good first appearance, and Loyola has also only won 20 or more games three times in his six years there.
Moser will likely not have to worry about losing his job at Loyola anytime soon. His salary was raised to a rumored $900,000 after the Final Four run and Moser received an extremely lucrative contract to take over St. John’s last offseason. The offer would have seen Moser getting an eight year contract in the range of 17 to 18 million dollars. Even if Wisconsin came calling, he may not be interested.
Ryan Odom - UMBC
Speaking of unexpected runs, how about UMBC beating Virginia as a 16-seed. Their coach, Ryan Odom decided to stay put after he led his team on that whirlwind of an opening game. Odom has paid his dues and was even a Division II coach at Lenoir-Rhyne for a season before landing the UMBC job. Since taking over the Retrievers, Odom has produced three seasons of 20 or more wins. At 45, he’s still a relatively young coach, who has been on coaching staffs throughout the East (South Florida, Virginia Tech, Charlotte).
Odom’s contract currently pays him $425,000 per year with a buyout just north of $200,000, so he’s more than affordable and would likely be thrilled to be paid two or three times his salary. The biggest question marks around Odom would likely be how he would recruit in the midwest and how would he fare at a Power 5 school. He may be worth a flyer, but you may want to see him perform first at an A-10 or Big East school before making the leap to the Big Ten.
Terry Porter - Portland
Milwaukee’s own Terry Porter, is currently the coach at the University of Portland. Does that come as a shock to you to? The former UW-Stevens Point standout (who played for Dick Bennett) enjoyed a 17-year career in the NBA. Shortly after his playing days were over, Porter became head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. He led the Bucks to a 41-41 season in his first year and made the NBA Playoffs. After his second season he was relieved of his duties and was then an assistant for the Detroit Pistons before getting a second shot at a head coaching job with the Phoenix Suns, which only lasted one season.
After another stint as an assistant with the Timberwolves, Porter got the call to come back to Portland (he played ten seasons for the Trailblazers), and accepted the head coaching position at the University of Portland. Unfortunately for Porter, things have not gone very well for him in the Pacific Northwest.
Coming into this year he held a 28-69 record as a college coach and was 6-46 against West Coast Conference opponents. His team may have started to turn a corner this season with a 5-3 record so far. While his coaching pedigree is long, it hasn’t been very successful. I’m not sure how much his name resonates with kids these days from a recruiting perspective, but if he can right the ship with own guys not at Portland this year, he may decide it’s time to come back to Wisconsin. Porter’s contract is not publicly available.
TJ Otzelberger - UNLV
Another Wisconsin native, T.J. Otzelberger, could be a possibility. The former UW-Whitewater guard has been a head coach at South Dakota State and now UNLV. He initially got his start as a head coach at Burlington Catholic Central High School in Wisconsin before moving to Chipola College, a junior college located in Florida, as an assistant. From there, Otzelberger joined Iowa State as an assistant under Greg McDermott (mentioned above). He was retained by Fred Hoiberg in 2010 and became Associate Head Coach.
Otzelberger briefly left Iowa State from 2013-2015 to join the coaching staff at Washington, before coming back to Iowa State for the 2015-2016 season. He then took the head coaching job at South Dakota State, where he had a 70-33 record, winning the Summit League twice and taking the Jackrabbits to two NCAA tournament berths. Otzelberger was named UNLV’s head coach this offseason, earning a five-year, 6.5 million dollar deal.
Otzelberger has long been known for his recruiting ability. The Wisconsin native is only 42 years old and seems to connect with players really. He has a buyout of 75% of his remaining contract (which after this season would equate to about four million dollars, which could be a roadblock. Out of anyone on the list, TJ Otzelberger may make the most sense and have the most promise to take over a strong Wisconsin program and legacy.
Who Else is Out There
Without letting this article drag on longer than it has, there are other names out there that could be considered. Ed Cooley at Providence has recently had success and could jump at the opportunity to coach a Big Ten school. He’s a beloved coach, but seems to really like his job at Providence...Tommy Amakar has been around the block for quite some time. He’s been a head coach since 1997 (when he was 32) and is most remembered around these parts never taking Michigan to the NCAA tournament. He’s found success at Harvard, advancing to the tournament four times and winning games twice. He may be better off left along in the Ivy League, but he’s not a bad consideration...Anthony Grant is the former VCU coach who got the whole thing started before Shaka Smart. He had great success at VCU and then left to coach Alabama. He was later let go and replaced Archie Miller at Butler. Grant has only had two losing seasons in his head coaching career, holds a 234-140 record and has Dayton ranked in the top-25 currently. May he likes being at a mid-major again, or maybe he wants to prove he can coach at a Power 5 school. If that’s the case, he should get a look...Mike Rhoades at VCU could be another hot name should he lead the Rams to a second NCAA tournament berth in as many years. He started as a DIII coach and after a few assistant roles, took over at Rice before coming to VCU. He’s only been to one NCAA tournament, but he seems to be carrying on the VCU tradition...Joe Pasternack of UC Santa Barbara could become the next hot coach come this offseason. He has a 45-19 record at Santa Barbara in his two years there. His teams have not been able to advance to the NCAA Tournament, but if he’s able to get them there, look for his name...Walter McCarty, Dan Majerle and Dan D’Antoni all have NBA roots (McCarty and Majerle as players, D’Antoni as an assistant coach for his brother, Mike). McCarty pulled off an unthinkable upset against his alma mater, Kentucky, earlier this season, which got a lot of people’s attention. He’s from Evansville and may be content to stay. Majerle has a 127-78 record at Grand Canyon University, but has yet to take his team to the NCAA Tournament, though they were ineligible for part of his tenure due to transition to a Division I school. Dan D’Antoni led Marshall to an NCAA tournament in 2018, beating four-seed Wichita State. He’s won 20 games three times there.
::Wrap this thing up Luke, there’s been four new coaches at Wisconsin since this thing started::
My stance on this whole debate is Badger fans have a right to demand their basketball team, which has seen unbelievable success over the last two decades, performs year in and out as a contender for the Big Ten. At the same time, they need to be realistic about what options are out there if Greg Gard were to be let go. Tony Bennett nor Shaka Smart are walking through that door anytime soon. Barry Alvarez talks the talk of a big time program, but doesn’t pay like he’s the Athletic Director trying to win a National Championship.
With Gard’s excellent recruiting classes the next two years, two Sweet Sixteens under his belt, and a career win percentage of 62%, do you really want to lose him over a rough patch? Are the options out there better than what he has done at Wisconsin?
Alright, I’ll hang up now and listen to your response. Thanks for taking my call.
You can share your thoughts on Twitter @Luke_Mueller24.