Gard talks Ryan, his future

Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard talks Monday on the Mike Heller Show about head coach Bo Ryan's upcoming retirement and the prospects of possibly replacing his mentor as the Badgers' next head coach.

Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard acknowledged Monday afternoon that “nobody coaches forever.” It was a point reinforced emphatically to him earlier that morning when his mentor – head coach Bo Ryan – broke the news that his retirement was quickly approaching.

“I wasn’t shocked but at the same time it was, ‘OK, obviously it’s real now,’” said Gard. “Everybody has those goals and aspirations of where you are going to be in your career when you decide (to retire). It’s a very personal decision … It’s a point in time where he feels it’s time to move on.”

Hearing the news directly from Ryan that his upcoming 15th season will be his last at Wisconsin, Gard told Mike Heller on the Mike Heller Show on am1070 in Madison that his first thoughts were nostalgic instead of a knee-jerk reaction felt by many later in the day.

“My reaction standpoint was a gentlemen who has had a hall of fame career,” said Gard. “I’ve been fortunate to be with him for the majority of that. I think I look at more as a positive and all the good things he’s done for the state for this program and the game of basketball itself and all the other things that come with it.

“I’m happy for Coach that he’s been able to coach this long at this type of level, what he’s able to accomplish and what his teams have done over the years.”

One of the next reactions likely felt by Gard was the head coaching opportunity he has been waiting for.

After worked alongside Ryan for 22 seasons at three different schools, Gard has gone from top assistant to top contender to replace his mentor, a placement made for him by Ryan himself, who said in his statement he hopes Gard would be his successor.

Having turned down other head coaching opportunities to stay in Madison, work with Ryan and not uproot his family, Gard naturally said he was “humbled” and “honored” by the comment.

“Bo and my relationship is very good, and we’ve been together for a long, long time,” said Gard. “You don’t know exactly how to respond to it or react to it, but it’s something that, as time goes on and the process plays itself out down the road, hopefully I am part of that process and see where it goes.”

Elevated to the role of associate head coach in July 2008, Gard serves as the Badgers' recruiting coordinator in addition to on-floor coaching duties, opponent scouting and game preparation. He is also in charge of piecing together Wisconsin’s nonconference schedule and is the director of the Wisconsin basketball summer camps.

In Gard's 14 seasons with the Badgers, UW has never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten standings, posting a mark of 172-68 (.717) in conference play. The Badgers have also advanced to the Final Four each of the past two seasons, finishing last season 36-4 and the national runners up. Gard has been on the bench for each of the top 10 winningest seasons in UW annals.

Gard has helped pilot the Badgers to four Big Ten regular season titles and three Big Ten tournament championships. UW has made the NCAA tournament in each of Gard's 14 seasons, advancing to seven Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and two Final Fours.

There have been several instances in the Big Ten where an outgoing coach has either named his successor or lobbied on his behalf. It happened at Michigan State with Jud Heathcote to Tom Izzo, at Purdue with Gene Keady to Matt Painter and even at Wisconsin on the football field from Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema, who was a coach in waiting for one season before taking over.

While there is a precedent, Gard said this situation is unique because of the current times and the laws for state jobs in the state of Wisconsin, which require jobs to be posted for at least two weeks before being filled (unless special circumstances exist).

“The decision will be in the hands of the hiring process, and they’ll have to follow that process when the time comes in terms of policies and procedures in place at the University,” said Gard. “When the job is posted down that road, that will be in the hands of the administration and human resources. From that standpoint, we’ll just keep following the steps.”

In the near future, the main step is getting a very young roster ready to compete. After seeing two starters selected among the first 20 picks in Thursday’s NBA draft and another three seniors get opportunities to participate in the NBA summer league, Wisconsin will need to replace 65.7 percent of its scoring, 60.1 percent rebounding, 59.5 percent assists, 70.1 percent blocks and 63.8 percent steals from this season.

Wisconsin enters the season with only one senior – fifth-year walk-on Jordan Smith.

“You’ve got to keep in mind that we have a team to coach and a team to get ready for this upcoming season and a team that will play extremely hard,” said Gard. “They won’t approach it any differently than they would any other season, because Coach has always been able to get teams to play extremely hard. They’ve done a great job of buying in and working. That will be the first and foremost thought process as how we continue to move this group through the summer.”

The Badgers also have one vacant scholarship it can use in either the 2015 or 2016 recruiting cycle. With the important July evaluation period about to begin, Gard said Wisconsin’s recruiting approach won’t change.

“Something that has always been great about this place, regardless of sport, is that you recruit to the University more so than a specific individual,” said Gard. “The academic pieces of it, the facilities, our tradition, the fan base, all those things are what we probably sell more than any one individual, and we always do it as a group. Any recruit gets a chance to know all of us … There’s been incredible stability and continuity within our staff. That’s huge with being able to be on the same page, delivering the right message to the men you are talking to and those families.”

While this season will be unique and generate plenty of buzz with Ryan’s impending departure, Gard said he’s not expecting his boss to start slowing down as the finish line nears.

“He won’t change,” said Gard. “He may get a few rocking chairs and some golf clubs and things like that as we make our lap through the Big Ten. He’s not going to change his approach. He hasn’t changed his approach in terms of preparation with these guys throughout the summer, what we did in spring. He’s going to coach the same way in terms of his level of competitiveness, and how he prepares a team. Everything will be the same. I don’t think this will have the rocking effect everybody thinks it has because we have so much experience and continuity on this staff.”

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