One of the many keys to Wisconsin’s basketball success has been coaching stability. Think about it. After Steve Yoder’s 10-year run ended in 1992, there were four head coaches. Then, the UW hired Bo Ryan, who is now in his eighth season. I often tell Bo that he has at least another 20 years in him. If Joe Paterno can coach in his 80s, why not Bo?
Having a coach, especially an exceptional one like Bo, at the same school for an extended period is something any school wants, but can be difficult to achieve. Through the years, Wisconsin has been up and down in that area, yet the program did grow, and the four men who sat in the head coach’s chair were all critical players. Today I thought I would give you a few impressions on those four folks:
Stu Jackson: In my opinion, one of the more under-appreciated coaches in recent UW history. Stu could rub some people the wrong way, but in his brief time in Madison, he was never afraid to do or say what was necessary to make basketball important. Be it something rather simple, such as replacing the Bucky Badger logo with the Motion W at center court (which bothered some fans), or by leading the Badgers to their first NCAA tournament bid since 1947 (which thrilled fans), his role at Wisconsin should not be understated. His very name and mere presence helped bring some much needed attention to the Wisconsin program.
Stan Van Gundy: Probably the funniest coach I have ever dealt with (other than perhaps UW football offensive coordinator Paul Chryst). It is a shame Badger fans never really got to see that side of Stan. His one year as head coach here was difficult. To Stan’s credit, he said he learned a lot from that season, and has gone on to become one of the more respected coaches in the NBA, currently as the head man of the Orlando Magic. I don’t get a chance to talk to him very often, but when we do chat, he likes to kid me about hearing a UW game on the radio, and how much he enjoys hearing those commercials about soybeans and farm equipment. Stan is a city boy all the way.
Dick Bennett: As genuine a human being as you will ever meet. On one hand so kind, so sincere, so giving of his time. On the other hand, so intense in practice or during a game that I often worried for his health. I enjoyed our many conversations about a variety of topics. Sometimes we would even talk about basketball. First, Dick stabilized the program. Then, he built it into an NCAA tournament regular, highlighted by the magical run to the 2000 Final Four. Now, his daughter Kathi is on Lisa Stone’s staff, while Tony is having great success at Washington State. I always laugh when I think of Tony describing the Bennett family. He says his temperament is more like his mother, while Kathi is much more like dad. One of my favorite moments from last season was when the school celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Kohl Center, and the ovation the fans gave Dick Bennett. Very much deserved.
Brad Soderberg: Much like Stan, Brad was in a very tough situation. After Dick stepped down, Brad led his team to a better conference record than the year before, but by March, the group just ran out of gas. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Brad is a wonderful person and a respected basketball mind. He was a terrific assistant for Dick, seemingly at times serving as the calming influence. If he so chooses, I would love to see Brad get another chance at being a head coach. If not, he certainly can help any number of programs as an assistant.
Fans have been fortunate to see the Badgers grow into one of the nation’s more respected programs. Clearly, Bo Ryan has taken the team to levels many only dreamed about. He also has kept the program stable and at a very high level. Not a bad combination.
I hope you appreciate what you have, and at the same time, perhaps take a moment or two to remember what some other dedicated coaches have accomplished.
And Bo, about sticking with this coaching thing another 20 years? I’m serious. What’s good for JoePa is good for you.