He'd been gone from his home in Delaware County a long time, going where they'd hire him, but you took notice of Bo Ryan, for the sheer number of games he kept winning at a Division III school in Wisconsin, in a town you'd never heard of.
Bo Ryan won so often at Wisconsin-Platteville that Division I noticed. How could you not, with four national titles? So Bo hit the big-time, Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Maybe not the biggest time. Not even the biggest program in his own city. But Bo kept on winning. It was obvious that swing offense he'd devised in D-III still worked a couple of levels up.
They noticed over in Madison. The Wisconsin Badgers traditionally had their good and bad years, and a coach named Dick Bennett had lifted the program to way more good than bad. When Bennett left, they obviously noticed Bo Ryan never seemed to have bad years, in Platteville or Milwaukee.
So another athletic director probably got a raise for the simple act of hiring Bo Ryan. And his swing offense reached peak efficiency. (The metrics guys salivated over it since it checked every box).
Ryan's sudden immediate late-night retirement Tuesday, coming after an offseason announcement this would be his last season - followed by some equivocation by Ryan himself - doesn't change anything. The state of Wisconsin owes this product of Chester a lot more than it can repay. The court in Platteville is named for him. They'll figure out how best to honor him in Madison.
At his last stop, Ryan won seven Big Ten titles in 14 seasons. His 364 wins are a school record, achieved through a consistent excellence that is just head-shaking. Ryan's Badgers never had a losing season in the conference. And he peaked at the very end, reaching the Final Four with his last two teams, the national title game last season. Bo Ryan came about as close as you can come to dropping the microphone and going out with a title.
Maybe a path that included early stops at Brookhaven Junior High and Sun Valley High School could have resulted in the same success locally if Ryan had stuck around. But there was a job in Racine, Wis., over four decades ago, at a school that doesn't exist anymore. Then back to Sun Valley. The connection in Racine led to an assistant's job with the Badgers, where Ryan stayed for eight years, before deciding Platteville was the right place to run his own shop.
Ryan could be ornery after losses - he is a Philly guy - and who knows maybe that had something to do with his hasty retirement. Either this was his best shot at getting assistant Greg Gard a real shot at replacing him, since Gard is now the interim coach. Or Ryan, who turns 68 on Sunday, got upset by something and decided to go out with a 7-5 record, taking the Steve Spurrier route to retirement, the fast lane. Bottom line, lame-duck coaching rarely works well.
It changes nothing. If you could have one guy coach your college basketball team for one game, Ryan had to be in the discussion. And when he made it to the big time, Ryan never forgot his roots.
I was in Boston in 2012 when the Badgers were there for the NCAA tournament. At his first news conference, asked for an opening statement, Ryan said, "Well, having grown up in the Philadelphia area, Boston was always the other guys."
The game may as well have been in Philly the way Ryan kept talking.
"As a kid, I'm watching Jack Kraft, Jack Ramsay," Ryan said. When he added "Hal Litwack", he knew that was wrong so immediately amended it. He couldn't pluck the name Harry out so he just said, "Coach Litwack at Temple. You talk about zones, and you go to the Palestra and you're 10 years old, 11, 12 years old, and you're watching ball movement and body movement. Those guys were so good in how they taught and how they cut and how they used skip passes."
Ryan can be claimed by both Chester and Aston. His family moved from one to the other when he was young. He graduated from high school in one, coached in the other. His father Butch was a founder of the Aston Athletic Association, so that organization was always intertwined with all of Bo's successes.
Last year, Ryan told The Inquirer's Joe Juliano more tales of growing up, of sneaking into the 1960 NFL championship game at Franklin Field - and couldn't resist repeating the family yarn about how his father got expelled from St. James High School.
"He asked the priest for one more chance," Ryan said. "The priest said, 'All right, do you know the Apostles' Creed?' And my Dad said, 'Why don't you hum a few bars and then I can join in?' They threw him out."
Butch was named William Francis and so was Bo, who had a million stories from his days growing up in Chester, at courts like the Cage. (It was as you'd picture it). Also, he never forgot that his success in D-I was forged in D-III.
"Going against all these chess players," Ryan said that day in Boston. "There isn't anything that we didn't see in Division III."
Well, maybe he didn't see talent the likes that Kentucky or Syracuse or Duke would bring to the court. But that talent didn't faze him. If anything, maybe it was the other guy who tended to get a little tight, since a game against Bo Ryan usually meant the game was played on his terms.