Like Homer abandoning Springfield in the Simpsons Movie, Bo Ryan is exiting college basketball with both middle fingers up in a less-than-heroic retreat.
Written by Kyle Magin
Bo Ryan has the most perfectly complementary personality/face combination in the history of college basketball, a sport Adolph Rupp’s tom turkey visage gobbled its way angrily through for decades.
The former University of Wisconsin headman stepped aside from his gasping 7-5 program Tuesday to the emotionally understandable but logically inexplicable cheers of the Badger State and college basketball brain trust. Words like ‘class act’ and ‘molder of men’ were thrown around about a coach who’s essentially a highly successful creature of the NCAA system, which makes him a ghoul. He leaves as the most successful coach in the history of the Badger program, fresh off a defeat at the hands of Duke in last year’s national title game.
Bo entered retirement in the most Bo way imaginable: spitefully.
The man who made a career out of blocking player transfers to his program’s benefit and scheduling only well enough to keep his team firmly on the bubble entering Big Ten play headed out the door months earlier than expected when he announced last summer he would coach through the entire 2015-2016 year before hanging it up. That way, his hand-picked assistant Greg Gard got the keys to the program for the entire Big Ten season, setting up a showdown between the Ryan/Gard faction and those at Wisconsin who support Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, a man who presumably would have liked to conduct a coaching search that included people who didn’t sit on Ryan’s bench. It’s an all-time up yours, the most controlling way possible to leave a position he was well-compensated to fulfill. I bet he growled at Alvarez when he called to announce his resignation if he bothered speaking to him at all.
Bo is neither loved nor loveable by anyone outside of Wisconsin. He molded gangly, crew-cutted two-star recruits into muscly, crew-cutted second team all-conference selections. Don’t let the recent narrative of Bo the great developer of NBA talent fool you with the first round draft selections of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker fool you. Bo has a long, proud history of gathering marginal high school talents and turning them into passable college talents who get a year or two of pro contracts somewhere in the world before heading off to a life of financially advising aging Madisonians. Outside of Dekker and Kaminsky, the only other Bo product you’ve heard of is Devin Harris.
No, Bo didn’t send many players to the league, but he won with them while they were in his care. His teams won at a .717 clip in the B1G, and Bo became one of the league’s deans alongside MSU’s Tom Izzo as once-storied programs like Indiana, Michigan and Illinois have shuffled coaches in and out during his 14 years. Bo won four conference regular season championships and three conference tournament championships—twice doing both in the same year. He made B1G basketball a hateful exercise in draining the shot clock like a stuck pig before sending up an uncontested three-pointer and suffocating the opponent at the other end with dogged defense. Everything people hated about the pacing of college basketball under the recently-discarded 35 second shot clock is epitomized in the ways Bo’s teams played. At the end of a game your team would inevitably lose focus and do something stupid like turn the ball over, and you’d have to watch Bo’s collection of smug farm boys who couldn’t get a date if they starred on The Bachelor walk off the court with a win.
There’s maybe nobody in American sports who did less with more outside of potential Billy Beane, and the latter has far, far, far better weather to agonize in. But let’s not lionize Bo. He’s a known asshole, blocking players who wanted to transfer out of his program from doing so to basically anywhere east of the Mississippi. When Jerrod Uthoff wanted to transfer out of Bo’s program a few years ago, the coach banned literally every B1G and ACC school plus Marquette and Iowa State from the list of potential landing places. That disregarded the fact that Bo could, at any time, have taken a paying coaching offer from any of those schools and not sat out a year or been denied the opportunity by some higher-on-the-totem-pole NCAA functionary. These things are allowed under the rules but are generally seen to be distasteful and an example of the hypocrisy that stains college basketball.
Bo’s career should be remembered for its exceptional success and ghoulishness. Rising through the ranks of Wisconsin’s small colleges before taking the reins in Madison is impressive. Finding wins there required Bo to twist the game to his advantage both on and off the court. It should be no surprise that he leaves the sport as he coached it.