Greg Gard has been a part of the Wisconsin basketball program dating back to 2001 when he joined the staff as an assistant under longtime head coach Bo Ryan.
In 2015 he was promoted to head coach and has gone 119-70 overall with five NCAA tournament appearances in six seasons (counting the 2019-20 tourney that was cancelled) and two appearances in the Sweet 16. The team entered this past season with high expectations, as the Badgers shared the Big Ten regular season title with Michigan State and Maryland and Gard was named the league's Coach of the Year.
However, even with all that success, it's not all sunshine and rainbows in Madison, WI when it comes to the basketball program.
After suffering one of their most lopsided losses of the year, a 15-point loss to Iowa back in February, the seven seniors on Wisconsin's roster called a meeting with Gard to air some grievances.
Unbeknownst to Gard, someone in attendance also secretly recorded part of the conversation. The meeting reportedly lasted over two hours and about 37 minutes of it was secretly recorded.
In a piece by Jim Polzin from The Wisconsin State Journal, some of the details of that meeting were shared earlier today thanks to an anonymous email that shared the recording.
Polzin shares that players shared during the meeting that they didn't feel that Gard cared about them, that they lacked a relationship and there was a disconnect between the team's veteran leaders and their head coach, and that they didn't feel like he cared about their future.
One player shared that he wouldn't be comfortable recommending Wisconsin basketball to future recruits due to what he perceived as a poor culture under Gard.
Gard took the time to listen to his the frustrations from each of his players without interjecting, and addressed them at the end of the conversation. At the end of the meeting there wasn't a dry eye in the room, the report shares.
The one comment that really stuck out to me in Polzin's piece came from senior leader D'Mitrik Trice, who shared:
"We're not here to build your resume, so to speak, with all respect given."
Over the last several years - whether its players at Missouri after the incidents in Ferguson, or Northwestern players talking about unionizing, or the multiple players we saw last year threaten to boycott college football if circumstances didn't change - we've seen players proudly use their voice in an effort to spark changes in a variety of areas.
With so many changes to the landscape of college athletics upon us, including NIL legislation and the one-time transfer rule, the landscape is changing in a way where (whether you like it or not, and whether you agree with it or not) we are going to hear players speak up using their platforms more and more.
Trice's comment, though in this case it happened behind closed doors this time, will likely see the light of day as players feel more and more empowered to use their voice publicly.
Coaches that embrace that reality will find themselves in a much better place than those that resist the changes that are on the way.
It sounds like Gard handled the meeting like a season veteran. Most importantly, he sat there are listened, putting ego aside while every player there had the opportunity to speak. At the very end, he provided his own thoughts. While it's never great to hear the feelings the Wisconsin players shared in the recorded parts of that meeting, it's hard to picture that being handled better by the program's leader.
This situation is also a great reminder that just because there's success, whether it's within your program or elsewhere, that doesn't mean your culture has crossed the finish line and "arrived," and the perspective of your players (especially the leaders on your team), and what they view as their reality, is the most important barometer of the culture you're creating.
Just a little bit ago, Gard and athletic director Barry Alvarez each shared a statement on the situation.