Over Time to Move on From Gard

It’s time for the Badgers to part ways with men’s basketball coach Greg Gard. And it’s not just because his team, for the second time in three weeks, collapsed in overtime of a game they badly needed.

The Badgers lost another heartbreaker yesterday, this time to Michigan. The Wolverines’ big man (and big mouth) Hunter Dickinson, hit a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. But nobody told the Badgers that they needed to keep playing. They lost 87-79 in Ann Arbor.

Incredibly, the Badgers remain on the bubble for an NCAA tournament birth, but that bubble is near bursting now. And why a team this mediocre is even being considered for an invitation to the dance is beyond me.

But actually I’d be for moving on from Gard even if the Badgers were doing better and their place in the tournament was just a question of seeding. I think Gard is an excellent coach. He takes teams with so-so talent and molds them into competitive units and he does it over and over again. My problem with Greg Gard is that even when his teams are as good as they can be, under his system they’ll never win a national championship. The Gard way — the Wisconsin way — is to play basketball the same way they’ve played football. Low scoring. Play defense, Take care of the ball. The fast break is as rare as the downfield pass.

Greg Gard’s style of play won’t win championships even when it’s at its best.

Athletic Director Chris McIntosh recognized the problem with the traditional approach when he shocked Badger nation and hired Luke Fickell to coach the football team. Fickell now intends to import something called the Air Raid offense. Maybe a poor title in light of what’s going on in Ukraine right now, but it sounds like an exciting concept in football. It suggests that there might be a new emphasis on playing offense and scoring points and that Badger quarterbacks might be asked to do more than turn around and hand the ball to a big running back headed into the center of the line.

What Fickell and McIntosh seem to understand is that we’re entering a new era in college athletics. The transfer portal has placed an even heavier emphasis on recruiting and that means, essentially, marketing. The best players want to score points. It’s hard to recruit by telling high school hot shots that they can look forward to playing defense and learning how to protect the ball.

In part I regret writing this. I like Greg Gard. I think he’s a fine coach and, by all accounts, he’s a good guy. And I even like the very Midwestern approach that the Badgers have had in both basketball and football. Nothing flashy. Just grind it out.

But you don’t win championships that way. McIntosh recognized that in football and, even though Wisconsin State Journal Sports columnist Jim Polzin reports that McIntosh says he’s solidly behind Gard, my guess is that he’ll come to the same conclusion in basketball.

It’s over time for a change.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

11 thoughts on “Over Time to Move on From Gard

  1. Pretty harsh, considering that Greg Gard is a two time Big Ten regular season champion and coach of the year, earning both awards in 2020 and 2022, last year. I get it that they lost yesterday’s game, painfully, but I’d bet they’ll make the NCAA tournament again this year. He’s 5-3 in that and every year they qualify. That’s no easy feat.
    I’m glad that you are not my boss, Citizen Dave, because you would have fired me a long time ago.


    1. I did note that I like Gard and think he’s a good coach, but the same was true about Paul Chryst. The problem is that neither Gard nor Chryst have the right approach for what’s needed in this rapidly changing new environment. And don’t feel too bad for either of these guys. Chryst walked away with $11 million in a contract buyout and Gard would do very well himself.


  2. I definitely do not feel sorry for either Gard or Chryst, who are basically the same guy. (White, middle age, boring native Wisconsinites.) In fact, both are set, financially, for life and should learn to relax a little. Being a head coach at a Power 5 school doesn’t look very fun to me, with all of the pressure and demands. You lose a game and the Peanut Gallery wants your head.
    Having said that, it appeared that neither Chryst nor Gard want(ed) to walk away and they deserve(d) to stay if that’s what they want(ed).
    You seem pretty sold on Luke Fickell and his Air Raid but I’d like to remind you that he hasn’t won a game yet and, while optimism abounds, he’ll be hard pressed to match Chryst’s accomplishments. Wisconsin football, since Barry Alvarez, has an identity – big linemen plowing lanes for talented, bruising running backs who just kept coming. James White, John Clay, Brent Moss, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, Jonathan Taylor and Braelon Allen are just a few and I’m leaving out several others. Badger quarterbacks are typically solid game managers who are capable of big plays on occasion. It’s a formula that has worked for a long time,
    The jury is out on Fickell and, while optimism sells tickets, he needs to deliver. As an Iowa fan, I’m interested to see what happens here.


  3. I know many Badger fans are upset by the way we defended the three point line at the end of regulation. But over the last twenty years or so, under Bo Ryan (two final fours) and Greg Gard (twice Big Ten Coach of the Year), we have been top four in the Big Ten more than any other team. Every championship level team has to play great defense and minimize turnovers and Greg Gard’s teams excels at this. I know that “stirring the pot” keeps your reader’s interest, but I think you are way off base saying that Wisconsin can never win a national championship under this system. Look no further that Tony Bennett’s Virginia program, which won a national championship in 2019 by playing an almost identical system. Keep writing about controversial issues, but be careful about what you wish for!


    1. All good points, though of course Tony Bennett’s team was also the only one to be nocked off by a 16 seed. Also, I just think things have changed rapidly with the portal and NIL. Recruiting matters more than ever and the best players don’t want to go someplace where taking care of the ball is such a priority. There’s no roar from the crowd for something that DIDN’T happen.


      1. I agree that many top recruits want to be on a team that loves to fast break and score lots of points. But in the end success is defined by winning. And if you don’t win, you can’t recruit. The UW women’s team has been a loser for many years. They’ve tried to play at a fast pace, but this leads to a huge number of turnovers This year, the top three in-state high school juniors have committed to UConn and Iowa. Every player wants to be on a winning team. When a team has two or three under performing years, the fans quit coming and the coach is gone.


  4. Mac should’ve replaced Tony Granato way before he fired Chryst or replacing guard is even considered.

    The once famous Badger hockey program is nothing but a joke at this point. The program is the laughing stock of the country


  5. Dave,

    I respect you a great deal and agree with you 99% of the time. But, this is a horrible take!

    What are your expectations? National titles regularly? Be like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke in their heydays? Nothing short of 30 win seasons every single year? Final four every year or see the door?

    There are over 300 division 1 teams that all have the same aspirations as the Badgers. There are 14 other Big Ten schools. All of them have deep finances and passionate fan bases. They all feel like you – we should be competing for national titles. Yet, no Big Ten team has won a national title in over 30 years. Are all of these coaches worthless? Should Matt Painter and Tom Izzo be fired?

    The Badgers are competitive every year. They make the tournament every year. They generally are in the running for a Big Ten title every year. They have a coach who has won a share of the Big Ten title two out of the last three years and has been named coach of the year in the Big Ten two of the last three years.

    And… you want to move on? Not good enough?

    What do you want? More exciting basketball? More offense? Say hello to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Marquette. Boy, Iowa can sure run the fast break!! Illinois out recruits the Badgers every single year! Yet, there is not a single fan of any of these teams who wouldn’t trade their team’s performance for the Badgers over the Gard era.

    Keep in mind that these are the same arguments that were made against Bo Ryan. He could compete for Big Ten titles, but couldn’t get enough talent to win in the NCAA tournament. Of course he went on to go to two Final Fours and a national championship game. If it were up to fans like you, he would have been fired after 5-6 years.

    And don’t get me started on Fickel. I hope he does well, but as others have noted, he has yet to win a single football game. Fans were plenty excited when Gary Anderson took over the Badgers also – new, exciting wide open football – a new era. We all know how that turned out. Let’s see him actually do something before annoiting him as a savior. And certainly don’t use his example as a reason for getting rid of one of the most successful coaches in Big Ten history.


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