Monday, June 29, 2015

Death. Taxes. Vampires don't die.

For the last year or so, local media has been building up Badgers assistant Greg Gard. In the back of my head, I began to wonder if the end was near for Bo Ryan. It made some sense. Last year was Bo's best team at Madison and Father Time always beat coaches.

Today's announcement wasn't a big surprise to me. Rumors of a pending retirement began circulating last fall. Reasonable people could and should have concluded he'd very much want his successor to be one of his guys and no one is more of a Bo guy than Greg Gard.

Now, there's no guarantee Gard actually gets the position. It probably isn't unfair to assume Gard is the guy. Ryan's statement puts the onus on Barry Alvarez to go against his wishes. One would also assume this has been discussed and Bo would have gotten the okay to basically name Gard his successor.

Is it the right choice?

That's the million dollar question. Gard is widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the game. I casually threw his name into the Marquette mix last year knowing the chances were zero he'd ever interview for the job but his reputation demanded he at least be considered.

Prior to Bo's arrival, Wisconsin had been to only 7 NCAA Tournaments. Dick Bennett had laid the groundwork but Bo took it to the next level making the dance all 14 years he has been in Madison, including the Final 4 the last two.

Bo is Wisconsin basketball. Big shoes for Greg Gard to possibly fill. History shows us, it'll be difficult for him to follow.

Successful Transitions

The best transition I can recall is Michigan State going from Jud Heathcote to Tom Izzo. Izzo was named coach in waiting and within a few years, he was a National Champion. That's the best case scenario. Like Gard, Izzo was a highly regarded assistant.

Bill Guthridge took over as a bit of a caretaker at UNC. He found success but I don't think it's an apt comparison based on age. 

Less Successful Transitions

I instantly thought of Marquette going through something similar in 1977. While Bo didn't reach the apex Al McGuire did, Al was Marquette basketball. Hank Raymonds had success but could never match what Al did. It's not entirely the same again as Gard has many years ahead of him but the slippage was small, then steep.

Arkansas basketball hasn't had much success since Nolan Richardson left but that transition was much different. The Razorbacks were sliding by time he got run out and Richardson's exit was messy.

That said, Arkansas has gone back to the Richardson coaching family trying to recapture his magic.

Go Big

The other obvious name is Tony Bennett. Louisville successfully transitioned from Denny Crum to Rick Pitino. Pitino had no ties to Louisville other than liking the state. Arizona hired Sean Miller to replace Lute Olsen. While not a big name necessarily, there was little doubt Miller was a rising star.

So What

My gut tells me Gard is a done deal and will do just fine. That said, 15 years of success doesn't guarantee success in the future.