When my phone started blowing up with alerts and text messages just after 10:00 last night, I knew something major was happening. I just didn't expect it to be the immediate retirement of Badgers Basketball Head Coach Bo Ryan. After quickly joining the streaming coverage of the post game press conference, I couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu--as Badgers fans have really been here before.
Bo's mid-season departure marks the final similarity between his career arc and that of his predecessor in Madison--Dick Bennett. Both won WIAC titles--Bennett at UW-Stevens Point, Bo at UW-Platteville. Both made it to small school national championship games--Dick losing in the NAIA finals back in the '80's, Bo winning three NCAA Division III titles. Both moved on to one of the "satellite" UW programs--Bennett at UW-Green Bay, Ryan at UW-Milwaukee. Dick made it to 3 NCAA Tournaments with the Phoenix. Bo never took the Panthers to the big dance--but all of the kids he recruited brought Bruce Pearl success in the Big Dance that he parlayed into big-time job offers (and failure).
And after paying their dues in the hinterlands, Bennett and Ryan were both finally selected to lead the Badgers. It took Dick five years to get Bucky into the Final Four. Bo needed a little bit longer--making it there after 13-seasons--but then taking the most-talented team in program history there in back-to-back years and missing out on a National Championship due to Duke getting all of the calls in the second half (no, I am not still bitter).
And those career arcs both ended the same way--with Bennett and Ryan leaving part-way through a post-Final Four season. Dick retired after a Big Ten-ACC Showdown win over Virginia that was played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee for some stupid reason. Bo hung up the whistle last night after a sluggish win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. And both retired the way they did for the same reason: they wanted long-time assistants to succeed them--and because UW-Madison officials like to follow rules like posting a job for x-number of months and interviewing minority candidates, the "appointed successor" thing doesn't fly down there.
So now Greg Gard tries to avoid the same career arc as Dick Bennett's mid-season successor--Brad Soderberg. Soderberg took what was basically the same team that had made the Final Four the year before and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Georgia State--and then was shown the door. Who was hired to replace him? Bo Ryan.
Hopefully, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez didn't delete Tony Bennett's number from his phone. In a way, that would bring this whole thing full circle, don't you think?