It’s fitting that Will Ryan makes his Division I head coaching debut at the Barn.
Ryan’s father, Bo, for 15 seasons with rival Wisconsin was public enemy No. 1 inside of the arena where his Badgers competed in the Border Battle against the Gophers.
The 42-year-old Ryan leads Wisconsin-Green Bay to face Richard Pitino’s Gophers in their season openers Wednesday night. And no, Bo won’t be there.
Not that it would’ve mattered since no fans during the pandemic would be allowed in the building to heckle him.
“No question there are some interesting memories there,” said Will Ryan, who coached at Division II Wheeling University in West Virginia last year. “My mom and dad have a winter home in California outside of Palm Springs. It’s absolutely gorgeous. You can’t blame him if he doesn’t come back.”
One story stands out from the rest for Will Ryan playing at Williams Arena on Wisconsin’s staff.
During pregame warmups against Dan Monson’s Gophers in 2005, Will walked up the stairs from the locker room underneath the Barn. The first thing he laid eyes on was a not very flattering sign in the Barnyard, the Gopher basketball student section nearby.
“They had not quite life-sized photos of Brian Butch that they took off probably the early days of Facebook,” Ryan said. “He was wearing something that was not a very flattering photo of him.”
Sources say it was a bikini top. Not a very good look. And his father, not surprisingly wasn’t too pleased.
“I remember telling my dad, the student section pretty much all have a picture of Brian Butch like that,” he said. “My dad rolled his eyes and said, ‘Oh boy.’”
That was the start of a frustrating night for Bo and the Badgers. They had no answer for Vincent Grier, who had 26 of his career-high 32 points in the second half to snap a seven-game losing streak to Wisconsin.
“End of shot clock he hit some really tough shots,” Ryan said of Grier. “It was kind of like tip of the cap. You’re like we got to congratulate him. He did a heck of a job.”
Ryan grew up in Platteville, Wis. where he eventually played at UW-Platteville for his father and won Division III national titles in 1998 and 1999. He finished his college career playing for Bruce Pearl at UW-Milwaukee in 2001-02.
He learned a great deal as an assistant on Saul Phillips’ staff at North Dakota State and Ohio (2007-19). Still, obviously his main inspiration comes from his father. Ryan joined the Badgers right after playing in college. His roles included grad assistant, video coordinator, and director of basketball from 2002-07.
Green Bay has nine true and redshirt freshmen combined this season. So, Ryan’s focus religiously on fundamentals like his dad has been critical. Playing his pop’s old rival Gophers, he’ll put what he learned to the test as well.
“It was only natural that I chose to follow in his footsteps,” Ryan said. “I’ve embraced that. I wouldn't be where I’m at today if I didn’t learn most of what I’ve learned over the years through him.”