College basketball loves itself the cranky old man.
He’s the one in the rumpled suit and perched on the sideline; the iconoclast ranting against a world where the players come with pricetags and college is a speedbump on the way to the NBA millions. Pete Carril sat like a basketball sage on Princeton’s bench. Bobby Knight threw a chair and Bo Ryan sat at a dais at this year’s Final Four and said: “We don’t do a rent-a-player.”
The last cranky old man in college basketball announced his retirement on Monday. Ryan, who took Wisconsin to consecutive Final Fours the last two years, released a statement saying this season will be his last. He said he was doing this because he wants his top assistant, Greg Card, to get the job.
“I’ve decided to coach one more season with the hope that my longtime assistant Greg Gard eventually becomes the head coach at Wisconsin,” he said in the statement. “I am looking forward to another year with our program, including our players, my terrific assistant coaches, our office staff and everyone who supports Wisconsin basketball here in Madison, around the state and across the country.”
Ryan, who is 67, was never going to coach Wisconsin much longer. Men deep into their seventh decade of life generally aren’t going to play the recruiting game, chasing AAU superstars with the hopes of enticing them for a season of basketball. In his statement, Ryan said he raised the idea of retiring to athletic director Barry Alvarez after the Final Four, but that Ryan encouraged him to take time to consider the decision. After nearly three months of consideration, Ryan still wanted to walk away.
They don’t make coaches like him anymore. Not in the bigtime, anyway. In some respects he was an anachronism, building his coaching career the hard way. After eight years as an assistant at Wisconsin, he spent 15 at Wisconsin-Platteville, winning four Division III championships. After two seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he wound up back at Wisconsin at an age – 53 – when many coaches are contemplating retirement.
Under Ryan, the Badgers have won 357 games and went to 14-straight NCAA tournaments.
His teams were never exciting. Their deliberate style of play was old-fashioned in a flying, fast-break universe. He did not recruit the best players. His teams often had a disproportionate percentage of white players to black, which was unsettling.
But Ryan was colorful. He was grouchy. Hey yelled at officials. He yelled at his players. He was the sour face in a sport where most smiles are fake. He didn’t fit and that made him interesting.
And like him our not, the last cranky old man in bigtime college basketball will soon be gone.
This article was written by Les Carpenter, for theguardian.com on Monday 29th June 2015 20.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010