What a change from his tenure as assistant coach for the Badgers from 1976 to 1984. Wisconsin historically didn't win games much before Ryan arrived. As an assistant there was mention that the young upstart might be worthy of becoming their next head coach. Youth only could only hold him down for so long.
Ryan won four Division III National Championships at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in the 1990s. Along with those he claimed four Coach of the Year awards. Turning this unknown school into a powerhouse was only the beginning of his notoriety in Wisconsin.
Ryan went on to coach at the University of Milwaukee for a few years. He has left a mark on Milwaukee's legacy that continues till today. Current Panthers coach Rob Jeter understands Ryan's value because he was a protégé under Ryan. While Ryan didn't fare well by his standards at Milwaukee, he left there a winner yet again.
In fact, in over two decades of coaching he has only posted one losing record. That includes middle school, high school and three Wisconsin colleges.
Simply put, Ryan's coaching dramatically improves teams. Judging the program needs to be spilt into two categories, before and after Bo.
The all-time high in wins for Badger basketball before Ryan was 22 wins. Since Ryan arrived in 2001, the team is averaging over 24 wins a season. His six straight NCAA tournament appearances, including two Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight appearance, have been unprecedented. In the twenty years before him, Wisconsin made only four trips to the big dance.
The culture of losing has been lessened by some other factors, not just Ryan. With a new arena, better recruitment of players, and following Dick Bennett's successful tenure certainly helped. He hasn't done it alone by himself, but certainly he led it further than most could dream decades ago.
Ryan's goals are far from complete now. He still has one achievement that only one other Wisconsin coach has had. In 1941, Bud Foster led the Badgers to their only National Championship. For the better part of this year, that has been the expectations for Wisconsin.
Ryan's success can be measured more than just wins and losses. Wisconsin now recruits on par with the other powerhouses in the Midwest, if not all of college. During his tenure he has coached two Big Ten Players of the Year and every year Wisconsin has had a player on the All-Big Ten team.
Teams now adjust their strategies to suit Wisconsin's style of play. With Ryan's swing offense Wisconsin keeps turnovers to a minimum and never allows stupid shots. His tight defensive pressure causes other teams to have little choice but to slow their tempo. Scoring 60 points against Wisconsin would cause most teams to be overjoyed.
Playing games in the Kohl Center has become one of the toughest arenas in the country. Starting in 2001, the Badgers lost only five games in five years. That includes a 38 game win streak that is nearly unfathomable.
Perhaps the easiest way is to judge Ryan is with his lifetime statistics. He is the current leader in overall winning percentage in the NCAA among coaches with at least twenty years of head coaching experience. He has led Wisconsin to its first ever No. 1 ranking. This year he reached 500 victories, with only 14 other current coaches achieving that mark. Among the legends that make up that list Ryan has the highest winning percentage. By winning 77 percent of his games, he has become the one of the best coaches in college basketball.
Ryan's loyalty to Wisconsin is the biggest reason to appreciate him, not his successful record. He easily could have gone onto a more historically respected school, but with enough victories there might not be a higher plateau for him to reach.