Greg Gard started the season as the Associate Head Coach of the Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Team. Even in his wildest dreams, Gard could never have imagined that before the season was over he would not have that title or the one which replaced it. On December 15, the world of Wisconsin Basketball, in general, and Gard, in particular, changed dramatically when longtime Badger Coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement, just 12 games into the 2015-16 season.
Gard was immediately named Interim Head Coach by Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. No promises or guarantees were given to Gard other than he would finish the current season with the Badgers. As was reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Gard inherited what was described as a “mess” by an observer familiar with the program. Wisconsin was only 7-5 and had already lost three home games – the season opener to a bad Western Illinois team, and then in the span of a few days two close losses to in-state rivals Milwaukee and Marquette. In Gard’s first game, the Badgers almost blew a 30 point lead against Wisconsin-Green Bay before holding on for a victory at the Kohl Center.
The Big Ten season didn’t start much better for Gard as the Badgers lost four of their first five Conference games. The team finally hit bottom when it lost at Northwestern on January 12. It was looking more and more like Gard would, indeed, only be the Interim Coach.
And then something incredible happened. Gard was able to hold the team together; change its offense back to “The Swing”; give significant minutes to, and trust the bench, and maybe most importantly, not panic.
What has happened since became a national story, one of the biggest of this college basketball season. The Badgers have won 11 of their last 12 games, including impressive victories over two Top 10 teams on the road, Maryland, which had never lost to a Big Ten team at home, and Iowa, which also had not lost a Big Ten home game this season. Wisconsin also beat Big Ten Champion Indiana and Conference power Michigan State at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin, with only one regular season game left at Purdue on Sunday can finish as high as second and no lower than fourth in the Big Ten. And, with 20 wins, the Badgers are also viewed as a lock for a NCAA tournament bid.
Now, it is all but certain Gard will be named Head Coach, possibly as early as this Tuesday, by Alvarez.
There’s more: Gard is also in the running for Big Ten Coach of the Year, and in the conversation for National Coach of the Year.
Not bad for a guy who started this season as an Associate Head Coach!!
By John Finkler