UWGB fires Will Ryan as its men's basketball head coach

UWGB has fired men's basketball coach Will Ryan.
UWGB has fired men's basketball coach Will Ryan.

GREEN BAY – The Will Ryan era is over for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball team.

The school announced Tuesday it has fired Ryan after 2½ seasons and replaced him for the rest of the 2022-23 campaign with assistant coach Freddie Owens.

Assistant coach and former De Pere star Brandon Pritzl also will remain on staff, but fellow assistant Jared Swanson is leaving with Ryan.

UWGB expects to begin a nationwide search for a new coach immediately and has retained Parker Executive to help.

“I want to sincerely thank Will Ryan and his family for their contributions to the men’s basketball program these past three seasons,” UWGB athletic director Josh Moon said in a statement. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

UWGB is still paying former coach Linc Darner

UWGB isn’t even done paying former men’s coach Linc Darner, who was fired in May 2020 after going 92-80 in five seasons.

Darner was guaranteed at least $720,000 in a settlement with the school, which still is paying him $20,000 per month through April.

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Ryan signed a six-year contract that paid him a base salary of $175,000 per season, which means there still is $525,000 owed to him after this season unless a settlement agreement was reached.

Ryan did not immediately respond to a text message.

Will Ryan, son of Bo Ryan, was expected to energize program

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go for Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame coach Bo Ryan.

He was hired in June 2020 to help energize a dwindling fan base, but things never worked out on the court or in getting more spectators in the stands during his short time with the Phoenix.

The team went 15-61 during his tenure, including 13-37 in Horizon League play. The numbers were trending in the wrong direction, with each season getting worse than the one before it.

UWGB is just 2-19 this season and has struggled to be competitive in most games. The final straw came Saturday in a 72-38 home loss to a Robert Morris team that’s in the lower half of the conference standings. It was the Phoenix’s ninth loss this season by 20 or more points.

UWGB has dropped 11 straight entering a four-game road trip that begins Thursday at Northern Kentucky.

The Phoenix also is coming off one of the worst seasons in program history.

It went just 5-25 in 2021-22, which was tied for the second-fewest wins in a season and set a record for the most losses. It has a decent chance to break both of those marks by the end of this campaign.

Transfer portal, COVID-19 pandemic hurt progress

Ryan certainly had things working against him from the start. His first offseason in Green Bay arrived extremely late thanks to the timing of Darner’s departure, not to mention it came during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCAA transfer portal also did not allow Ryan to build any continuity with his system or the roster, with several players departing at the end of each of his first two seasons.

It included starting point guard Kamari McGee, who was a potential fixture at the position only to transfer to Wisconsin after his freshman season last year.

“Consistency is the key, and we haven’t had that yet,” Ryan said in December. “You just never know at the end of the year what you are going to have. Who is staying, who is going? Hopefully, knock on wood, most of these young men stick together and get through the trying times and build something special together.  That’s always been the goal. You don’t want an entirely new team every year.”

RELATED:UWGB coach Will Ryan: 'No animosity' after losing potential star Kamari McGee to UW

It remains to be seen if there will be another big roster turnover this offseason after a new coach is named.

Strong recruiting class is on way

The Phoenix has a strong incoming recruiting class arriving, although it’s unclear how the futures of Hartland Arrowhead’s Mac Wrecke, D.C. Everest’s Marcus Hall and Neenah’s Cal Klesmit will be impacted by Ryan’s firing.

Ryan had the support of other recruits that arrived here in part because of him, and who believed in him despite the struggles early in his career.

“They all know what they are talking about,” freshman forward Donavan Short said about the coaching staff earlier this month. “They definitely have what it takes. I am 100% in on everything. I haven’t had a single doubt on them. I love the coaching staff.”

The hire of the next coach will be Moon’s first significant one since arriving as AD in July 2021, and perhaps it is especially vital as he attempts to figure out a way to make the men’s program relevant again.

"UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future," Moon said. "Phoenix men's basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond."

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Will Ryan fired as UWGB men's basketball head coach