MADISON – As a kid growing up in tiny Cobb, Wisconsin, Greg Gard could tip the rabbit ears on the family’s television just right to get broadcasts of Iowa basketball games. But he wanted to watch the University of Wisconsin. That life-long love of the school had turned into the biggest opportunity of his career.
After turning down other head coaching opportunities to stay at Wisconsin, Gard was rewarded for his persistence by being named the 16th head coach in school history Monday.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be named the head coach at the University of Wisconsin," Gard said in a statement. "I'm extremely thankful to Coach Alvarez, the Athletic Board and the Board of Regents for this incredible opportunity to lead my home-state program into the future. It's a role and a responsibility that I cherish and take extremely seriously. It's been a long journey over the last quarter-century or so, but for me to be able to spend my entire career in this state and be surrounded by such incredible support has been vital to my success. I am so grateful to everyone who has played an integral part in my development.”
After proudly touting he’s always worked under a one-year contact, Gard reportedly has a five-year deal that will pay him roughly $2 million annual, almost four times the amount he was making as an assistant coach. The deal was approved by the Wisconsin Board of Regents earlier Monday.
"As I said many times throughout the past weeks, I've been very impressed with the job Greg has done with this team," UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. "Not just from a wins and losses perspective but also in terms of player development and making necessary adjustments. It became clear to me as the season wore on and I was able to observe Greg both on and off the court that he was the right person to lead our men's basketball team. I was extremely excited to be able to offer him the job and fully believe that the program is in good hands for years to come."
UW posted the job opening two weeks ago with an anticipated starting date of March 8. That was a clear sign that Alvarez had decided the 45-year-old Gard was the right man to lead the program.
Gard has been operating as the school’s interim head coach since Bo Ryan announced his retirement on Dec.15 following a 15-point victory over Texas A&M Corpus Christi. It was believed the move was designed to give Gard, who had been Ryan’s assistant for over two decades, the opportunity to earn the job outright after Alvarez refused to name Gard the “coach in waiting” earlier that year.
Although reiterating that he was more concerned about his player’s successes that auditioning for the job, Gard has led Wisconsin to a 13-6 overall and a tie for third place in the Big Ten, extending a streak of top-four finishes to 15 seasons, tying a Big Ten record.
Gard wasn’t notified of Ryan’s retirement until the day of, causing him to scramble to get things settled with his coaching debut a week away and the conference opener a week after that. He started installing Ryan’s trademark swing offense, hired former assistant coach Howard Moore to fill his vacancy on the bench, expanded the bench and puts his fingerprints on the team while not straying far from Ryan’s philosophies.
Winning 11 of their final 13 Big Ten games, the Badgers (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) will open play in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday as a No. 6 seed, playing either Nebraska or Rutgers. No matter what happens, Wisconsin is a lock to play in the N.C.A.A. tournament for the 18th straight season.
Alvarez said following Ryan’s retirement that he would still open the job up to a national search following the season. That never happened, as the job was posted a day after Wisconsin’s road victory at Iowa – its second top-10 road win in two weeks.
Gard has been a fan of the Badgers since trying to stay up late to watch the rebroadcast on WHA public television or going to his aunt and uncle’s house to watch them play weekend games on ESPN. He has a much better seat now.
"I am thankful to Coach Ryan for the opportunity he gave me to be a college coach over 25 years ago,” said Gard. “He has been a positive mentor in the professional development of my career and showed great confidence in my abilities and potential as I grew as a young coach.
"I'm looking forward to building on the great tradition at Wisconsin and representing my home state in a manner that can make Badgers fans proud."