Over a 38-year span from 1976 to 2013, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan and his dad, Butch, attended every single Final Four.
Even during the years at Wisconsin where Ryan had to endure the pain of coming up short in the NCAA tournament, he would still attend with his dad. Butch never let his son hang his head for too long either, telling him after every agonizing March defeat that next year would be the year he and the Badgers would get there themselves.
Unfortunately, Butch Ryan will never see his son coach in the Final Four. Butch passed away last August after suffering a broken hip along with a bout of pneumonia. His death came just eight months after Bo’s mother, Louise, passed away.
So when the No. 2 seed Badgers punched their ticket to Arlington by outlasting Arizona in an overtime thriller Saturday, it was an emotional win for Bo Ryan, especially considering the significance of the day.
“It should always be about the players, but I’m going to get one comment in,” Ryan said. “Today would have been my dad’s 90th birthday. I just thought I’d throw that in.”
Despite winning four national titles during his tenure at UW-Platteville and building one of the country’s most consistent programs at Wisconsin, Bo was never quite able to get over the NCAA tournament hump. This left him with the distinction of being the best active coach in the country to never reach the Final Four.
That all changed with Wisconsin’s memorable victory over the Wildcats in the Elite Eight, which advanced the Badgers to the final weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2000, when the team was coached by Dick Bennett.
The win was also extremely gratifying for the group of tight-knit Wisconsin players, who have made it no secret they wanted to be the team that finally got their coach to the Final Four.
“It’s very special being a senior and being the first class to get him to the Final Four,” senior guard Ben Brust said.
Brust was among the group of four players that attended Butch Ryan’s funeral, along with redshirt senior forward Zach Bohannon, redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser and junior forward Frank Kaminsky.
“Me, Zach, Frank and Josh went out to Philadelphia for [Ryan’s] dad’s funeral,” Brust said. “We learned a lot about just how much of a star Butch was at the Final Four. For coach Ryan to get there on what would have been Butch’s 90th birthday was very cool.”
The significance of the win for Bo Ryan was evident in his postgame interview, where fans got to see a side of the coach most never have before.
When asked about his late father, an emotional Ryan had to fight back tears.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to be there coaching without him,” Ryan said. “But I can’t imagine him being any happier or my mom who passed away about a year ago.”
It certainly will be difficult for Ryan to travel to the Final Four without his dad for the first time, but attending as a coach instead of a spectator is about the best way he could honor the memory of Butch Ryan.
Bo paid tribute to his late father one last time at the end of his postgame interview Saturday, pointing to the sky while uttering one final sentence, perfectly summing up the win’s significance.
“This one’s for Butch.”