"Death, taxes and Bo Ryan." Search virtually anywhere in the sports corner of the Internet after a major Wisconsin basketball victory and you're sure to be flood with the phrase. Ryan's consistency has been so overwhelming during his 14-year stint as the Badgers' front man that it has become a meme.
Wisconsin hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament under Ryan's guidance, and has been a No. 5 seed or better in nine of his 14 seasons, including each of the last six. The Badgers have reached the second weekend of the Big Dance seven times in the last 14 seasons, giving Ryan more trips to the Sweet 16 over that span than any coach not named Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, John Calipari or Bill Self. And as far as the Big Ten goes, no team in the league has more overall or conference wins than Wisconsin's 357 and 172, respectively, during the Ryan era.
What Ryan has been able to accomplish in Madison would warrant cries for Hall of Fame induction (he was a finalist this past year) regardless of the fine details, but it's been the way Ryan has won which has come to define both he and Wisconsin as much as anything else.
Including 2015, Ryan has gone through 14 recruiting cycles while acting as Wisconsin's head coach. During that span, the Badgers have produced precisely zero classes that have landed in the top 25 of any of the major scouting networks. Player development, the seldom-practiced art of redshirting -- Ryan had six former redshirts on his national runner-up team a season ago and will have seven in his final campaign -- and a full belief in the UW system have allowed the Badgers to exist among the nation's elite during the one-and-done era.
If there is one poster child for the Bo Ryan way, it's Frank Kaminsky. The big man arrived in Madison as an unheralded project and looked the part for his first two seasons, averaging just 9.0 minutes per game. He had scored in double figures just five times in 74 career games before exploding onto the national scene in December of his junior year when he dropped a school-record 43 points in a game against North Dakota. A year and-a-half leader, Kaminsky is a top-10 NBA Draft pick who's headed to the league with every major 2015 national Player of the Year award tucked away underneath his goofy arms.
While Kaminsky's development is and will remain arguably the most recognizable success story of Ryan's coaching career, it's still something of an outlier. Wisconsin has produced just two first-round NBA Draft picks since the turn of the century, half of those coming last week. And yet here Ryan remains, one of only five coaches in Division who has been to each of the last 14 NCAA Tournaments.
On Monday, Ryan released a statement announcing that the 2015-16 season would be his final go at Wisconsin.
Back in the spring, in the days after the national championship game, Barry Alvarez and I discussed the possibility of me retiring. I've always been told that is not a decision to make right after a season is completed. Barry thankfully encouraged me to take some time to think about it and I have done that. I considered retiring this summer or coaching one more season.
I've decided to coach one more season with the hope that my longtime assistant Greg Gard eventually becomes the head coach at Wisconsin. I am looking forward to another year with our program, including our players, my terrific assistant coaches, our office staff and everyone who supports Wisconsin basketball here in Madison, around the state and across the country.
Over the next 9 months there will be tributes, there will be rocking chair gifts before away games, there will be -- even with Kaminsky and Sam Dekker off to the NBA -- plenty of wins, but there will also be questions. Most notable among those: where in the world does Wisconsin go from here?
Under Ryan, the Badgers have been dominant despite playing a style that leaves as little margin for error as any in the country. They have thrived under that pressure.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Duke and Kansas are the only two teams in the "tempo-free era" that have produced a better average efficiency rating than Wisconsin. It speaks to Ryan's brilliance as a head coach, sure, but it also sets the stage for one of the toughest follow-up acts in recent memory.
Trying to be Bo Ryan is the worst thing Wisconsin's next head coach -- whomever that winds up being -- could do. The smarter route is to change things up, at least moderately. Go after bigger recruits, pick up the pace of play a tad, make a splash in the marketing/social media world. It might not sit will with the Badger fan base at first, but it beats the alternative, because the number of coaches who can do what Bo Ryan has done with the level of talent he's had at his disposal is very likely be limited to, well, Bo Ryan.
The good news for the next Wisconsin coach is that there is a foundation for success in place regardless of whether the 2016-17 platform is continuity or modernization. If you want to recruit better players, those better players are going to listen to a program that is coming off back-to-back Final Fours and that hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament since the Clinton administration. If you want to keep recruiting the same types of system players, the ones who see that process as attractive are still going to view Wisconsin as one of the most enticing options on the table.
Bo Ryan has always been ahead of the game when it comes to efficiency and advanced numbers. Now, as he walks away from the game, it's the numbers he'll leave behind that will give his successor a fighting chance to keep the ball rolling in Madison.