Having played for Bo Ryan during his tenure at UW-Platteville, I knew the man could coach. Over his final 12 seasons at Platteville, he compiled a 314-37 (.895) record, averaging 26.2 wins a season. He led the Pioneers to four national championships, including the 1995 team that I started for. We went 31-0 and beat an undefeated Steve Alford-led Manchester team for the title.
Ryan recruited me just after winning his first title (1991) and he was always mentioned when Division I jobs opened up in the area. When I asked him whether or not he was going to leave while I was there, he said, “John, the only job I want other than this one is the University of Wisconsin job.” That job opened up a couple times over the next several years and Ryan was passed over both times. Despite all the success at the D3 level, he realized he needed to get some D1 experience before he’d get a chance with the Badgers, so he took the head position with UW-Milwaukee. After turning that program around in two seasons, he finally got his chance to lead the Badgers.
Like I said, I knew he could coach, but his performance over the last four years leading Wisconsin proved that he could coach. I wasn’t sure how Ryan’s disciplined nature was going to go over with the thinner-skinned D1 scholarship players, but from what I’ve heard, he’s adjusted his coaching style a bit and has led the Badgers to an average of 23.3 wins in his first four seasons. During that span, Wisconsin has won two Big Ten championships, and Ryan has won two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards in the process. Wisconsin has earned four straight NCAA tournament births, and last year they advanced to the Elite Eight after two straight Sweet Sixteen appearances.
His talents were on display again tonight as the Badgers visited the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge – the Deacons prevailed, 91-88. The Badgers weren’t themselves defensively, allowing Eric Williams to dominate inside and Justin Gray to score a career high 37 points. Somehow Wisconsin stayed in the game, riding Alando Tucker’s 23 second half points. Tucker is Wisconsin’s best player, with Brian Butch and Kammron Taylor chipping in – it will be interesting to see how this relatively young team progresses as the year goes on.
One thing’s for sure: Bo will “coach ‘em up.”
To understand Ryan’s philosophy, check out the great article he wrote for collegeinsider.com.