Gard steadies Wisconsin as he readies for coaching debut
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Forgive Greg Gard for the mess in his office.
He is in the process of moving down the hall at the Kohl Center, though Gard has more pressing matters on his to-do list.
''What I've learned in terms of the structure of the program, the foundations, what works, what doesn't work, and what I believe in, is very coach Ryan-related,'' Gard said Tuesday afternoon at his office. ''But obviously I have to coach to my own personality.''
That means tweaks here and there, perhaps to create better flow in what has been a stagnant offense of late. He'll handle players perhaps a little differently than the gruff but personable Ryan, who left the Badgers after 14-plus seasons.
Gard has closed practices for the next week as he works though any opening changes on his watch. It is a little less time in the spotlight for players who have had to endure unexpected unrest while also having to study for final exams.
The players, Gard said, have been ''absolutely terrific'' since the initial shock of Ryan's announcement, which came after a 64-49 win on Dec. 15 over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
In one way, there's actually a little more certainty at Wisconsin. No longer will players have to wonder when Ryan would go after the coaching lifer had wavered for months on a timeline.
''They know at least what's next,'' Gard said. ''I may demand some things a little more sometimes, but at least they know going forward ... what direction we're headed.''
The unusual timing at least gave the program a transition period in between games.
Gard, through his first week on the job, has displayed a forward-looking and even-keeled personality. Having worked with Ryan for two decades, he thanks his former boss for helping him to get ready to handle more responsibility.
''I've had as good as preparations as you can possibly have for (working) for 23 years with a Hall of Famer,'' Gard said. ''I've seen every situation, been in every scenario.''
The Badgers (7-5) have a young team, with eight freshmen on the roster and no scholarship seniors. After Wednesday's nonconference finale against Green Bay, Wisconsin faces challenges early in the Big Ten schedule, with home games against ranked schools Purdue, Maryland and Michigan State by mid-January.
Ryan wanted Gard to succeed him. Now Gard gets a three-month audition to impress athletic director Barry Alvarez.
This does not faze Gard, who has said he knows all about working under one-year contracts.
Gard, considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country, can draw on personal challenges for perspective.
His father died just before the season began in late October following a seven-month battle with brain cancer. Ryan cited what Gard was going through at home as a factor in why he delayed a retirement announcement he had thought about making over the summer.
''Nothing, I don't think, can be any more gut-wrenching ... than what I watched our family go through,'' Gard said. ''That, I don't think put me to where I am today, but it was a huge piece to reaffirming what I've always believed in.''
Family is important to Gard, who has three children, ages 7 to 14, with his wife, Michelle. She has started replacing the dated family pictures in his old office for more up-to-date photos for his new digs.
''Behind every successful person you see, there's a quarterback righting the ship at home,'' Gard said glowingly about his wife.
Coaching is also a big part of that identity.
He joined Ryan in 1993 at Wisconsin-Platteville, where the team won three Division III national titles during Ryan's tenure. Gard would follow Ryan to Division I Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1999, and finally to the state system's flagship campus in Madison in 2001.
It is of little surprise that Ryan has checked in on Gard through text messages and phone calls. Gard said his former boss has said he can call anytime with any questions, and they spoke on Tuesday morning.
''He's back going through that next phase, said he was going to try to practice his putting,'' Gard recounted with a smile.
Gard is now in charge at the office.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP