When Bo Ryan retired on December 15, nobody really knew an announcement was coming, including his former assistant Howard Moore.

Moore, who played at Wisconsin from 1990 to 1995 and was one of Ryan’s assistant coaches from 2005 to 2010, was working that night on set at the Big Ten Network, ready to discuss the Badgers’ 64-49 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Suddenly, Ryan announced his retirement.

“The studio looked at me like I had an inside track,” Moore explained. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.'”

Now interim head coach Greg Gard had to find an assistant coach to fill his bench, but most basketball coaches were already in the middle of their seasons.

“I was actually on the show [that night], and I had to come up with this impromptu, from the heart speech [about Bo Ryan],” Moore said. “So we finished the show and [BTN men’s basketball analyst] Jess Settles looked over to me, and he says, ‘You know you’re going to get a call, right?'”

Settles sure was right. A week later, Moore was officially brought on as the Badgers’ new assistant coach, in which he described as an “absolutely” easy decision.

“I was flattered, obviously,” Moore exclaimed. “We’ve got a great friendship and relationship. I’m glad he [Gard] felt that strongly that he needed to have me here with him.”

Outside of Ryan’s sudden decision to retire, nobody really knew what to expect out of Gard, who had been Ryan’s assistant for almost 23 seasons dating back to Ryan’s time coaching UW-Plateville and UW-Milwaukee. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez had said that Gard’s tenure as interim head coach would serve as his tryout to be the head coach moving forward in 2016-17.

Since that night, Gard has turned around Wisconsin’s season, leading the Badgers to a 7-4 record overall (6-4 in Big Ten play). Gard would be the first to admit that he has not done it alone. Assistants Gary Close and Lamont Paris have had to step up big time in preparation and recruiting, in which they have excelled.

Still, bringing on Moore may have been one of the most underrated moves in college basketball this season.

With experience under Ryan alongside both Gard and Close, Moore was familiar with the system. Ryan’s structure, drills, and principles are used by all of his former assistants, whether it be at UW-Milwaukee under Rob Jeter, at Ohio under Saul Phillips, or at UIC, where Moore was the head coach from 2010-2015 before working for BTN. Still, Moore recognizes that Gard is utilizing Ryan’s system in his own way, giving guys opportunities to succeed and seeing how they handle certain situations.

“The thing that I really respect is he’s doing it within his own personality,” Moore said about Gard. “So you’ve seen how he’s handled his bench during games, and that’s his personality. That’s been vital for us right now, and it’s given guys like Bronson [Koenig] and Nigel [Hayes] some well-needed rest in the course of a game. Expanding our bench has really helped our team, and I think it’s part of who Coach Gard is as a head coach.”

Giving opportunities to as many as 10 players throughout a game has proved to be successful for Gard. Players like Jordan Hill and Aaron Moesch have played their true minutes all season under Gard’s direction.

While Gard has been giving opportunities to a roster with eight freshmen, Moore has taken time to help out Paris with the Badgers’ frontcourt. Moore, a forward during his time with the Badgers, has used his experience to help teach spacing, positioning, and footwork. He told me he points things out to the players, but believes Paris has done a great job with the team’s bigs.

“I’ve tried to just be another resource for them, and they listen,” Moore explained. “That’s all you can do is just throw the information out there, and hope that they’re sponges.”

No freshman in the Big Ten has played better than Wisconsin’s own Ethan Happ, whose post skills and footwork has gained national attention in recent weeks. Since Moore joined the coaching staff, Happ is averaging 2.3 more points per game, up to 13.5 from 11.2, and shooting 56.3% from the field, up from 53.7%. Happ has also become an elite defender in the Big Ten in his first season, tied for second in the Big Ten with 34 steals, and sixth in the conference in Defensive Rating at 92.5.

It has been an easy transition back for Moore for the most part, but he does feel like he missed out on a lot. He did not have the most successful tenure at UIC, going 49-111 in the five-year stint, and he just happened to be coaching elsewhere during Wisconsin’s best two-year run ever in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

“It was difficult, struggling in my situation,” Moore revealed. “But you feel a part of that because obviously you had a hand in getting some guys here that were successful, and you feel a part of it in that way.”

Moore’s hand that he was referring to was recruiting reigning Naismith Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky as well as Ben Brust, Wisconsin’s all-time leader in three-pointers. Both played pivotal roles in either or both years during the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Fours.

Now, Moore is looking for the next Kaminsky’s and Brust’s. Back on the recruiting grind, Moore has been out a lot during off-days looking for talent for 2016 and 2017. He has a short list, and has been compiling information on players, such as transcripts and film. With two scholarships available for 2016 and no players signed, Wisconsin is counting on Gard, Close, Paris, and Moore to find great fits for the program.

Alvarez is receiving pleas from Badgers fans and media all over the country to retain Gard and his coaching staff next season based on how they have turned this season around. Only time will tell if everyone sticks around, but Moore and the coaches are living in the present for coaching and recruiting.

“We’re attacking this as if we’re going to be here for sure,” Moore disclosed. “That’s how you have to work it. I think people understand our situation; they’re in no hurry to make a decision one way or the other right now, so it allows us to get to know some people.”

In the mean time, Moore just wants to be there for Gard and do his job to the best of his ability.

“I’m not the same Howard that I was when I first left,” he pointed out. “So obviously the experiences I had in Chicago have made me a better coach, and made me a better assistant coach for him [Gard].”

Moore’s family has been in Naperville, IL during this bizarre time, but he could not help but glow when describing how tremendous they have been about the situation. Moore met his wife in Madison, and both his 9-year old son and 6-year old daughter were born in Wisconsin’s capital.

Most importantly for Moore, his family feels the same away about getting the job done. They told him when he accepted the job, “Go help Coach Gard, get that done, and we’ll be here waiting on you. No matter what the situation is, we love you.”

And if it all works out, perhaps the Moore family can all come back to Madison, with Greg Gard leading the system that Bo Ryan built into 2017.


A special thank you to Howard Moore for his time and willingness to speak with me.


Photo Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports