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Why Wisconsin extending Greg Gard matters

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Color many people purple and call them confused.

Having hindsight available to us now, of course it seems obvious Greg Gard would keep the Wisconsin Badgers as a relevant team in college basketball. Go back in time, however, to ask what some thought of the coach replacing the legend that is Bo Ryan, and we would likely receive a mixed reaction.

On Friday, the university extended Gard through the 2021-22 season. It isn’t a shocking — or particularly long — extension, but it does cement the idea most began to have in Year 1 of the Gard era. That he was the correct choice to replace Ryan after all.

In only two seasons with the Badgers, Gard has managed to not only keep the program near the top of the Big Ten and battling through the NCAA Tournament to reach two Sweet Sixteens, but he’s avoided potential issues that could have plagued the program.

The biggest of which was him failing to shine while coaching in Ryan’s shadow. Ryan is a legendary coach, might have done some of his best work toward the end of his career, and it is rare for the immediate successor to fair well following such success, yet Gard has done just that.

There’s even more to this than on the surface. Sure, taking over for the literal face of the program is a big bleeping deal, but so too is navigating the pitfalls of what could have happened during the 2016-17 season.

Two of Wisconsin’s three best players last season were not afraid to let their voices be heard. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig had issues they wanted to discuss and/or be activists. The latter of the two had his issues met with nearly no backlash, but Hayes’ dated back a year prior and could have been met with some scorn by those who hate people without any power attempting to gain some by using their own voice.

You know, the anti student-athletes brigade.

Remember all of that? It was the type of stuff that resulted in many predicting that Wisconsin — good or bad as a team — would be at the forefront for most media attention for reasons outside of basketball.

Then, well… nothing happened.

There were no national controversies, topics transcending sports, or even the hint of a distraction going on within the Wisconsin program. It was, simply put, just another successful season for the Badgers. One in which all the major presumed storylines never once became a national talking point.

Maybe it is giving Gard too much credit, and it is dangerous to not also acknowledge how well the players handled everything themselves, but it does speak to how he can relate to younger people and deal with what some would consider sensitive subjects.

This is important, because in case you were unaware, it is the young people donning Wisconsin uniforms that aided Gard in the transition from being one of Ryan’s top lieutenants to becoming the one commanding the basketball-program-ship.

That is why the extension through the 2021-2022 season is so important. It provides Gard with job security and — more importantly — the ability to let the 2018 recruiting class know he will be at Wisconsin to see them through their collegiate journeys.

It is a never-ending cycle for college coaches. They are only as good as the players on their rosters. For Greg Gard, a man who just benefited from succeeding with some of Ryan’s guys, it provides him the benefit of being able to attempt to bring in his own without any doubt lingering over the program or his status.

In turn, if he’s as good a coach as he’s showcased the last two seasons, and he’s as good with young people (even if only in theory and not in practice) as the idea in how he handled some potentially volatile situations lends credence to, neither Wisconsin or its new leader are going anywhere anytime soon.

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