Buzz Williams left Marquette to take the Virginia Tech job, opening the door for long time Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski to get his first coaching position. Ernie Kent and Bruce Pearl are back on the sidelines after taking the jobs at Washington State and Auburn, respectively, after length absences, while Mike Dunlap is back coaching in college after a failed stint with the Charlotte Bobcats.
"I don't think there's anybody better in the country out there," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. "I don't know how many assistants have had the success that he's had and been a part of teams with that kind of success."
In Gard's 13 seasons with the Badgers (the last six as the associate head coach), he has helped Ryan lead the program to three Big Ten regular season titles, two Big Ten tournament championships and 13 NCAA appearances, which include five Sweet 16 trips, two Elite Eight appearances and this year's Final Four berth.
Throw in the six seasons the two spent together at Platteville and two at Milwaukee and Gard has been a part of 512 of Ryan's 704 wins. They'll have a chance to add another win to that total on Saturday when the Badgers (30-7) take on Kentucky (28-10) in the national semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"Success can be fleeting at times," said Gard. "It's a fine line, and that's the one thing I've grown to appreciate as a coach. Everybody wants to get to a Final Four and win a national championship and having won three of them myself (at Platteville), I know how hard it was to do that. Having this current experience reaffirmed those thoughts I had back in Platteville. It's awful hard to get to that level. You have to have everything go your way."
Gard is in charge of the scouting report for the Wildcats, keeping with tradition of taking the first game of an NCAA tournament weekend. The results speak for themselves, as the Badgers have gone 11-2 in the first round of the NCAAs since Ryan arrived, including Wisconsin's 75-35 victory over American this year.
Gard also handled the scouting report for Wisconsin against Baylor, which resulted in a dominating 69-52 victory in the Sweet 16 last Thursday.
A Sports Illustrated story listed 19 coaches ready for their first head coaching job, a list that included Gard. The authors say Gard, "has been Bo Ryan's top lieutenant for, well, forever. He's the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for a program that has won at least 12 Big Ten games nine times in 13 seasons. And for all those years with Ryan he's just 39."
Flattering to be sure, especially since Gard is actually 43.
"They must have been looking at an old bio," he deadpanned.
Part of the reason Wisconsin has been so successful is Gard's success recruit fertile basketball areas, where he has deep connections. He's successfully recruited Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor out of Minnesota, Traevon Jackson and Rob Wilson out of Ohio and convinced Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig and Keaton Nankivil, among others, to stay in-state.
Another reason for the success is the synergy between Gard and Ryan, especially during practices. When Ryan asked to work on fade screens that certain teams run or to quickly assemble a three-quarters court defense, Gard is usually quick to implement the look for the starters.
"He's really good in knowing the game (and) being able to get it across to the players," said Ryan. "A lot of guys know x's and o's, but to get people to do them and in such a short time, Greg is the best."
Since Ryan started coaching at Wisconsin, he's only lost three assistants: Tony Bennett left following the 2003 season to work for his father at Washington State, Rob Jeter took the Milwaukee coaching job in 2005 and Howard Moore took over Illinois-Chicago in 2010.
Gard has been in the running for multiple jobs - Toledo and Green Bay to name two – but neither turned out to be the right fit.
"Sometimes a gut might be looking for a particular head (coaching) job," said Ryan. "Sometimes a guy feels he still has things he's learning. When he feels the time is right, he'll move on."
Gard has the desire to run his own program some day, but says the pursuit of a head coaching job isn't something he gets caught up in.
"I've always taken the same approach year, after year, after year dating back to when I first had opportunities to go different places," said Gard. "It's obviously a byproduct of our success and it's a credit to our players that we've had and the people I've been able to work with. People recognize our success. If it's the right situation, I'll investigate further. If not, I'll say thanks but no thanks, as I have done several times."
Nine Division 1 head coaching jobs remain going into this weekend, including jobs at power conference schools like Boston College, California and Wake Forest. While Gard's name may come up this weekend, he made it clear that it would have take something extra special to pull him away from an area he's coached in since 1990 and a program that setting itself up for big things.
"I've got a great job," said Gard. "I've got an absolutely fantastic job not only from a career standpoint, but from a personal standpoint from our family. I don't get caught up in ‘I have to be a head coach by day x.' For 20-plus years of my career, I've just tried to make the best of the situation I'm in and understand it's a journey, and enjoy the journey along the way. If you caught up in where you are going to be tomorrow, you lose sight of where you are today.
"I'm in a terrific, unbelievable situation. I'm working for a great head coach. We've got a great administration. It would have to be a very special, right situation and it would have to fit in a lot of categories for me personally for that to happen."