In the interim, Wisconsin's Gard enjoying banner success

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard has never actively campaigned to become the permanent successor to the retired Bo Ryan.

The Badgers' win-loss record sends a strong message without saying a word.

Wisconsin is 12-5 under Gard going into the game Wednesday night at Minnesota. With a winning percentage of .706, Gard would be one of the most successful interim coaches in the last two decades if the Badgers keep winning at that clip.

Now that the university has formally started the process of finding a permanent replacement, current and former Badgers haven't been shy when asked if they wanted to offer an endorsement.

''I think it's pretty obvious - Coach Gard. Everybody on our team loves him,'' point guard Bronson Koenig said recently.

Gard's place in ''interim'' success is tricky to measure. Schools decide who gets credit for wins and losses when interim coaches are in charge. In cases where a coach is suspended or out sick, for instance, a school could choose to assign a win or loss to the permanent head coach, even if an interim replacement is running the team.

Going by win-loss records alone, the closest way to any official comparison of Gard's success is to look at teams with records for two coaches in a season, and then to double-check whether one of the coaches had an ''interim'' tag.

Using that measure, Gard's winning percentage is best among coaches on the sideline for at least 10 games since 1996-97, according to STATS. Other top coaches were:

-Kerry Rupp, Utah, 9-4 (.692) in 2003-4.

-Mark Byington, Charleston, 7-4 (.635) in 2011-12.

-Brad Soderberg, Wisconsin, 16-10 (.615) in 2000-1.

-Dick Hunsacker, Utah, 18-12 (.600) in 2000-1.

None of those other coaches stayed on permanently. At Wisconsin, Soderberg was replaced by Ryan, who left Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Gard, also a Milwaukee assistant, followed Ryan westward, so he has direct knowledge that a successful interim stint doesn't automatically lead to a full-time job.

Gard has stressed taking things one game at a time. He would rather talk about his team than about his job status.

After a 1-4 start in Big Ten play, the Badgers have won 10 of 11 to surge back toward the top third of the conference standings.

''I've said from Day 1, this is not about me,'' Gard said Sunday after the 68-57 win over Michigan. ''I've told the team this is not an audition. I will coach them the same way whether I had it three months to coach them or 10 years.''

Athletic director Barry Alvarez said after Ryan retired abruptly following a game on Dec. 15 that he would wait until the end of the season before deciding how to proceed.

The end of February apparently is close enough. Wisconsin posted the job opening last week, as formally required by state rules. Applications were due by Thursday, with the earliest anticipated start date being March 8 - the day before the start of the conference tournament.

This is not exactly the ideal time for interested candidates from other power-conference schools or major programs to start sending in resumes.

Last week, Koenig's former teammate, Zach Bohannon, wrote a column posted online by the Wisconsin State Journal in which he said, ''The UW Athletic Department should name Gard as its head coach.'' Bohannon, well-respected in Wisconsin circles, was teammates with Koenig on the Badgers' Final Four team in 2014.

Forward Sam Dekker was also teammates with Koenig on the back-to-back Final Four squads before bypassing his senior year for the NBA. In Milwaukee this week before a loss to the Bucks, the Houston Rockets rookie praised the steadfast Gard.

''Sticktoitiveness,'' Dekker said first when asked why his former teammates have responded so well to Gard.

''He knows what works because he was under coach Ryan for so long. He has those principles in him and he knows how to preach them to the guys,'' Dekker said. ''He's a guy that's the right man for the job.''



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