Bo Ryan made Wisconsin a national powerhouse

— -- Wisconsin Badgers coach Bo Ryan trusts his heart.

That's how he recruited.  Frank Kaminsky was an overlooked prospect from Illinois. Ryan had a feeling about him.

That's also how he coached. He spread the floor with Kaminsky and  Sam Dekker and dared a perfect Kentucky team to defend his Badgers in last year's Final Four. Ryan had a feeling that would work.

And on Tuesday night, minutes after a nondescript victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Ryan retired.

He had a feeling it was time.

"This was a decision months in the making," Ryan said in a news release about his retirement. "I brought this up to [athletic director Barry Alvarez] back in April. He advised me to take some time to think it over and I appreciated that. But in recent weeks, I have come to the conclusion that now is the right time for me to retire and for Greg Gard to have the opportunity to coach the team for the remainder of the season. I discussed this with Barry and I appreciate him giving me the space to make this decision."

The game's annals will ignore the timing or the current struggles of a Badgers team that opened this season an unimpressive 7-5. They will instead focus on the back-to-back Final Fours, the four Big Ten regular-season titles and three conference tournament crowns in 14-plus seasons. And the four Big Ten coach of the year awards.

They will recall his unblemished mark on Selection Sunday: Wisconsin never missed the Big Dance with Ryan on the sideline. Before he arrived, the Badgers had made the tournament seven times in their history. He tripled that number to 21. During his tenure, Wisconsin had the best record in the Big Ten. He never finished below fourth in the conference.

All of this came after he won four national championships with Division III UW-Platteville.

And now, he exits.

He takes with him the soul of a fan base that watched him add bricks to a foundation that rests on a plot of land cleared by former coach Dick Bennett. Ryan created magic on the hardwood at a school that had gained the majority of its attention on the gridiron, mostly under former head football coach Barry Alvarez, who is now the athletic director and tasked with replacing Ryan.

Who could have predicted that "Running Back U" -- a nickname concocted during Alvarez's best years at the helm -- would soon send  Devin Harris, Jon Leuer, Alando Tucker, Marcus Landry, Duje Dukan, Kaminsky and Dekker to the NBA? Ryan recruited elite prospects. But he earned praise for his ability to mold blue-collar kids into successful college players and pro prospects.

His teams battled. They were never careless. He rarely scrimmaged in practice. He preferred sessions on fundamentals. He drilled the swing offense into his players, so much so that some say they would utilize the scheme in pickup games. Discipline. That was always his demand. Do it right.

Perhaps that's why he wavered. What's "right" in this scenario? You stay and you run the risk of coaching too long. You leave midseason and some folks say you have departed too soon: They said that about Bennett when he retired three games into the 2000-01 season after guiding Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000. Interim coach Brad Soderberg coached the rest of that season before Ryan arrived in 2001-02.

Ryan never seemed sure of his decision to proceed after a preseason announcement that this would be his last on the sideline in Madison. And his current team seemed to reflect that uncertainty. The Badgers struggled as Ryan wrestled with his future and that of his loyal assistant Greg Gard -- a man he cosigned as his potential successor, a man who now moves forward as the interim coach of a program that is rarely in flux.

But Ryan did not quit.

He constructed a legacy, one that will stand forever at Wisconsin. And then, he retired.

Because he could.

For 14-plus seasons, he had carried the Badgers to unprecedented heights. He had elevated the program's national profile.

That's the best time to go, with the aroma of great success still lingering. How many coaches waited until that pleasant smell became an odor?

Not Ryan, who understands that life is bigger than basketball.

There's the daughter with the yoga studio in Madison. The son who is an assistant coach at Ohio.

There are the grandkids. They're getting bigger now. And Ryan wants to be there. His children could see how he increased his involvement in their lives and set aside more time for them after his own father, Butch Ryan, died before those memorable Final Four trips.

Basketball, basketball, basketball.

It's been his life, one that has considered everyone else for four decades.

Players. Assistants. Fans. Recruits. Boosters. Administrators.

But Ryan earned the right to make a choice for himself on Tuesday night.

He followed his heart.

And one day, after a chapter of mourning, Wisconsin's will mend.