A report from Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel indicates what we all thought was a foregone conclusion is exactly that — Greg Gard will be the next permanent head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team.
The way his team responded to his coaching and the results thereafter made his permanent hire pretty easy to call. Going from 1-4 to start Big Ten play to winning 11 of the last 12 games in conference play speaks volumes to what Gard can bring to the table.
With Gard likely to get the permanent job, it means the Badgers staff has continuity. It’s a luxury many Badgers fans take for granted given the 16-year tenure of Bo Ryan and the yearly runs to the NCAA tournament.
One can be forgiven for expecting success on an annual basis these days. However, making the NCAA tournament has been a rarity in the long-term history of the Badgers, and just because Gard is likely to take this team to the tournament doesn’t guarantee such things on an annual basis in the future.
In fact, history suggests Gard may not be long for the job in replacing his former boss. The history of college basketball coaching is littered with former assistants turned head coaches who turned out to be major mistakes.
The flip side can be seen in the transition that took place nearly two decades ago at Michigan State, as long time assistant Tom Izzo replaced his iconic boss Judd Heathcoat upon his retirement.
But, for every Tom Izzo there are stories like like Iowa’s transition from the very successful run of Ralph Miller to his assistant Dick Schultz (who?). That transition ended with Schultz resigning after four straight seasons of second division finishes within the Big Ten.
Heck, just look at Wisconsin’s own history. UW wouldn’t have gotten to a Bo Ryan era without an unsuccessful transition from Dick Bennett to Brad Soderberg.
Point being, even the most well-intended transfers of power and the coaches with the best pedigrees under their old head coaches can be unsuccessful quickly or over time.
So, given history being against Gard, how does he buck all that is against him in the long run?
It’s all in the success this current team has had since he took the reigns from Ryan. Gard has shown a propensity to be a teacher first and a figurehead second. He also is less worried about outside perceptions and the internal work that his team is putting in.
Taking a team full of young players and molding them in to a successful unit in short oder certainly showcases his teaching chops.
Combine the on-court teaching success with his already known ability as a recruiter and there is the formula that tells us all Gard has the tools to be a long-term figure in the first chair of Wisconsin’s bench.
Of course, there is no way to know exactly which direction Gard’s era at Wisconsin will take. The good news is that the early returns suggest this is a coach who gets it, and answering a challenging transition with near immediate success should give UW fans and boosters plenty of hope for a bright future under his leadership.