MADISON, Wis. – It almost seems serendipitous to have a Wisconsin Badger head basketball coach with a law enforcement badge in his background. Yet it exists. While it’s simply a play on similar words with altogether different meanings, the story is still noteworthy.
The Wisconsin Badgers lost a nail biter to Florida in the NCAA basketball tournament Friday night 84-83 on a last second three-point shot. A heart break loss to be sure! But Greg Gard, the Badger head coach knows about adversity. He is a man with a badge in his background.
“He never forgets where he came from,” says Gard’s brother Jeff, the youngest of Connie and Glen Gard’s three boys.
In December 2015, Greg Gard, longtime assistant coach to the legendary Bo Ryan, was thrust into the role of interim head coach at UW when Ryan suddenly announced his retirement.
Gard transitioned from a relatively unknown commodity to the face of Badgers basketball. Moreover, stepping into the 2016-17 season as head coach, Gard carried with him many life lessons, including time spent wearing a badge.
Badger With a Badge – Law Enforcement Part of Foundation
The current Badger coach took night courses at Southwest Technical College in Fennimore, a short drive away from his hometown of Cobb, Wisconsin, population 458. Subsequently, he worked to become a certified park ranger and then a full-fledged law enforcement officer. As a result, he worked part-time for the Iowa County Sheriff’s Department and the city of Dodgeville Police Department, reported Channel3000.com.
“I was the rent-a-cop at the high school dances and wedding receptions,” Gard jokes.
Finally, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville, where he started as an agriculture business major.
His part-time law enforcement work wasn’t enough to pay for school, and in the fall of 1990, he responded to a help wanted ad in the local Iowa County Shopper. Consequently, he landed the job as the basketball coach for the eighth-grade team at Southwestern Middle School. And he volunteered to help with the Southwestern High School team in the evenings as well. This began a path that would lead him to the job as head coach at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Considering Police Work
After high school graduation in 1989, Gard commuted at night to Southwest Tech, working on law enforcement certifications, while also taking classes at UW-Platteville. He became a part-time park ranger at Blackhawk Lake, where he sold campsites and admissions stickers, monitored curfew quiet hours and the no-wake zone. Hence, he wrote tickets and carried a firearm, reported the Journal Sentinel.
Gard then worked part time as a deputy sheriff at the Iowa County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Dodgeville Police Department. With his qualifications, he could work at the fair and dances, or supervise an inmate at the hospital.
“It takes a pretty good person to do that job – well mannered and with common sense to sift through the things that you will deal with – and you never know what you will deal with,” said Iowa County Sheriff Steven Michek, who knows the Gard family well. He once helped train Gard when the future coach worked part time at the sheriff’s department.
“I almost switched to criminal justice as a major,” Gard said. “I got a little advice from those older officers: ‘Greg, you might not want to do this.’ I think they saw the stages of what being a career law enforcement officer entails, and what you had to deal with. There were a lot of positives because you were helping people, but there were a lot of negatives — and we’ve seen a lot of that recently.”
To this day, Michek believes Gard would have made a good cop.
“He’s just a common sense person,” he said. “I would have loved to have him as a sheriff’s deputy. He would have been that honest, common sense, ethical person with good character.”
Coaching Became Life Journey
Gard ultimately graduated from UW-Platteville with a degree in education. He eventually stuck with Ryan as his assistant coach for 22 years, through UW- Platteville (1993-’99), UW-Milwaukee (1999-’01) and then Wisconsin (2001-’15), before landing the head coaching job himself.
He led UW to the Sweet Sixteen this year before their season ended with a heartbreak loss Friday night.
In April of 2016, Gard won the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award. He will likely see more recognition in the years ahead.