IOWA CITY, Iowa – Bo Ryan is easy to dislike if you’re an Iowa fan, or a fan of any Big Ten men’s basketball team not named Wisconsin.
He rubs you the wrong way with his abrasive personality and with his constant complaining to the officials, but mostly because he wins games at an incredible rate.
Ryan, who announced on Monday that he will retire after next season, has accomplished at Wisconsin what most of the men’s basketball coaches at Iowa and the other Big Ten schools have failed to do.
Current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery has made the program relevant again, with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, but he still has a ways to go to match Ryan’s historic run.
The fact that Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament in each of its 14 seasons under the 67-year old Ryan, while also never finishing lower than fourth place in the Big Ten is incredible. It’s the stuff of legends. And that’s what Bo Ryan, a native of Chester, Pa., is to Badger fans.
As great as the Wisconsin football program has been since Barry Alvarez rebuilt it in the early 1990s, you could argue that Ryan’s basketball teams at Wisconsin have been more successful. His teams have won better than 74 percent of their games in every season.
The Badgers beat Kentucky in the NCAA Final Four in March, ending the Wildcats’ 38-game winning streak, before losing to Duke in the title game. The two best players from that team – center Frank Kaminsky and small forward Sam Dekker – have moved on to the NBA, leaving a huge void in Ryan’s final season as head coach.
But you just know that somehow and someway, Ryan will turn his 2015-16 squad into a disciplined winner. It won’t be his most talented team, but it might be his most inspired team because of the unusual circumstances.
It’s almost for certain next season that Wisconsin will excel on defense, shoot well from the perimeter and commit very few turnovers because that’s what Ryan teaches and demands from his players. His teams aren’t always fun to watch, but they’re always prepared and fundamentally sound.
Ryan isn’t always pleasant to be around from a media standpoint, but we have a tendency to do that to some coaches, especially those with quick fuses.
Ryan also didn’t help his cause with Iowa fans with how he handled Jarrod Uthoff’s transfer request in 2012. Ryan seemed selfish and vindictive throughout the process.
But the biggest reason Iowa fans don’t like Ryan is because of his prolonged success. I won’t go as far as to call it jealously, but it’s close to being that. I’ve even had some Iowa fans tell me that.
You keep thinking that Wisconsin will take a step backwards under Ryan, but it hasn’t happened.
Long-time Wisconsin assistant Greg Gard will get serious consideration for the job, especially with Ryan promoting him. But there is always a risk in hiring an assistant coach because it’s a lot different running the show than helping to run the show.
Whether you like Ryan or not, both sides would have to agree that he has earned his fame and fortune by climbing the coaching ladder the old-fashioned way.
Ryan was the head coach at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville from 1984-99, posting a 352-76 record and winning four national championships.
He then spent two seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he led his teams to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly a decade at the school.
It was then on to Wisconsin where Ryan has done what nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve expected.
He now gets to leave coaching on his terms, which isn’t easy these days.
The timing of Ryan’s retirement reportedly has nothing to do with health reasons. He apparently is just ready to try something else.
With his gift for gab, Ryan would seem to be a natural as a broadcaster.
My guess is Iowa fans would like Ryan more behind a microphone than kneeling before the Wisconsin bench or screaming at officials during games.
If you can’t beat him, you just hope that he leaves.