Bo Ryan was Tuesday morning’s Distinguished Lecturer at UW–Platteville’s Williams Fieldhouse, on the basketball court named for him.
Ryan shared what was more like a conversation with two UWP graduates — Jeff Gard, the men’s basketball coach who hosted the event, and, in an announced addition, Greg Gard, who succeeded Ryan at UW–Madison after coaching with Ryan at UW–Platteville, UW–Milwaukee and UW–Madison.
“Division I gets all this attention … you know what? This is where it is, this is where it is happening, at an institution like this, where students are paying their own way, doing their thing, trying to figure out what they want to do,” said Ryan, who was chosen for the lecture by UWP students. “This is why you come to a place like this. And all the experiences and all the friendships you make are so special.”
That included locally known stories like the 1983 state champion Platteville High School football team moving the Ryans from Madison to Platteville. Less known is that the move took place the weekend of the June 1984 Barneveld tornado, where pickup trucks crawled past Barneveld on two-lane U.S. 18/151.
When asked by Jeff Gard about Greg Gard, Ryan said, “How would you like somebody come into your office … and he’s trying to talk to you about being part of the basketball program, and he’s thinking about coming and he wants to be involved?”
Then Greg Gard, who had told Ryan he wouldn’t be able to make it one night earlier, appeared on stage.
“Now he gets a chance to express his will as well as listen,” Ryan said about his successor in Madison after Ryan’s in-season resignation in December. “He gets the chance to be the mentor, to help [players] through those tough times. I did not want to see Greg — coached at Platteville, coached at Milwaukee, coached at Madison — stolen by some other athletic director.”
“When I started this 26 years ago with coach [Jim] Nedelcoff at Southwestern, I thought I’d be coaching at Iowa–Grant, Fennimore, that I’d be coaching vs. coach [Jerry] Petitgoue” of Cuba City, said Gard. “It all came back to here. All roads lead back to here.
“People ask, is Wisconsin my dream job? Obviously the answer is it’s terrific, but I always felt every job I had was my dream job. … Every chance I had to leave, he would twist my arm in his own special way that this was the place to be.”
Ryan’s and Gard’s advice to students was similar.
“Don’t try to force-feed your career,” said Gard. “What you have here is really special.”
“Take five passions you know of” and “four strengths that you have” and “serve others,” and, Ryan said, you have “your life’s mission.”
Also less known is that Ryan, as a high school student, attended a basketball camp that also included a Rutgers sophomore, Jim Valvano. After a camp coach praised Ryan for diving after a loose ball — praise Ryan said no one wants in front of other campers — Ryan answered that he didn’t have the heart to tell the coach he dived for the loose ball because he tripped.
Ryan was an assistant at UW–Madison when UWP athletic director George Chryst, a former UW–Madison assistant football coach himself, hired Ryan in 1984.
“I can’t say anything more powerful than somebody wants you and believes you’re the right fit,” said Ryan, adding that Chryst’s wife, Patty, who was in attendance, “made Kelly feel welcome and wanted.”
Ryan said his path to a business career was interrupted by two years as an Army military policeman in Augusta, Ga., in a period when the military had the highest AWOL and desertion rate in its history. “I thought I could make a difference in young people’s lives,” he said. “So I decided to teach and coach, but teach first.”
Ryan warned that he would occasionally go off on tangents, then proved his prediction correct by saying, “I don’t know where else you can get the Shullsburgs, the Cuba Citys, the Mineral Points, the Belmonts together …”
“Cobb,” interrupted Jeff Gard, who wrote a book report about Ryan at Iowa–Grant Elementary/Middle School.
Ryan taught a basketball class at UWP, and asked if anyone in the audience had attended. After several hands were raised, he asked how many got A’s. Some hands went down, but one that didn’t belonged to a woman who said she dove for a loose ball in class.