Bo Ryan announced his retirement late Tuesday.
So the Wisconsin job is now officially open.
Here are some candidates whose names are sure to surface …
Greg Gard (Wisconsin assistant)
Left up to Ryan, Gard would already be his permanent successor. He’s the associate head coach whom Ryan wanted to be Wisconsin’s coach-in-waiting, similar to the way Mike Hopkins is at Syracuse. But, as I’ve previously reported, athletic director Barry Alvarez declined to go along with that plan, which ultimately sparked Ryan’s midseason retirement. Ryan knew the timing of this announcement would force Alvarez to at least let Gard coach through a Big Ten schedule, and that maybe Gard could do enough in that chair to convince Alvarez to give him the job full-time. So that’s where we’re at. Gard is basically interviewing for Alvarez for the next three months.
Tony Bennett (Virginia head coach)
Bennett, obviously, is the splashy hire Alvarez is sure to pursue. The Virginia coach is a former Wisconsin assistant and the son of ex-Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. He was born in the state. He played college basketball in the state. His parents still live in the state. And now he’s one of the sport’s most respected coaches, someone who has been the National Coach of the Year (twice), the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and the ACC Coach of the Year (twice). He’s won the past two ACC regular-season titles; his Cavaliers are ranked eighth in the Associated Press poll now. The only question is whether Bennett would leave Virginia for Wisconsin. And, frankly, the answer is unclear.
Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa head coach)
Jacobson has won at least 20 games in six of the past seven seasons, which includes a 31-win campaign last season. He’s from North Dakota and coaches in Iowa, meaning he’s familiar with the region, if that matters. More than anything, though, he’s just a really good coach. If Gard can’t get the job, and Bennett won’t take it, Jacobson makes lots of sense.
Wayne Tinkle (Oregon State head coach)
Tinkle guided Montana to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, 2012 and 2013 before getting the Oregon State job in 2014. He led the Beavers to eight Pac-12 wins last season and has them off to a 6-2 start this season thanks largely to the play of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. I mention that because Tres is Tinkle’s son, and Thompson is the son of OSU assistant Stephen Thompson. Both are freshmen. And both could, theoretically, also make the move to Wisconsin with Tinkle, who was, by the way, born in Milwaukee.
Bryce Drew (Valparaiso head coach)
Drew has turned down high-major jobs, and he was a finalist at Iowa State. He’s been a head coach for four seasons and won the Horizon League three times. He was raised in Big Ten country, and, of course, he starred at Valpo while playing for his dad, Homer Drew.
Saul Phillips (Ohio head coach)
To be clear, I don’t think the Wisconsin job would or will fall past the above candidates. But, if it did, for whatever reason, Phillips has obvious ties to Ryan and the program. He’s a Wisconsin native who played for Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville, then worked for him at Wisconsin. He’s a two-time Summit League Coach of the Year.
Rob Jeter (Milwaukee head coach)
Jeter is a lot like Phillips in that he played for Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville, then worked for him at Platteville, Milwaukee and Wisconsin before becoming Milwaukee’s head coach in 2005. He’s made the NCAA Tournament twice. He’s been the Horizon Coach of the Year.