University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard and departing longtime athletic director Barry Alvarez issued statements Tuesday, the same day excerpts of a secretly recorded meeting with Gard called by several veteran players late last season went public.
Nate Reuvers, Brad Davison, D'Mitrik Trice and Micah Potter — all starters — were among seven seniors in the meeting, along with Gard and three assistant coaches. All but Davison have decided to forgo another year of eligibility with the Badgers. It's unclear who produced the covert recording.
"I coached for a lot of years and the idea that someone would record and edit a conversation between student-athletes and their coaches is extremely disappointing," said Alvarez, who officially steps down as AD at the end of the month. "Difficult conversations between athletes and coaches have been happening since the beginning of time. Every program goes through adversity and a variety of challenging moments. That's sports. Teams work through it all together and, hopefully, get better from it."
The meeting took place with four games remaining in the 2020-21 season — one that began with Wisconsin ranked No. 7 nationally. The Badgers defeated Northwestern two days after the meeting but ended the regular season with three consecutive defeats and split two games in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments to finish a disappointing 18-13.
Sources told the Wisconsin State Journal that the meeting lasted about two hours, though only 37 minutes of it were recorded. The WSJ attempted to contact all 11 people in the meeting. Some were unable to be reached or didn’t respond to messages, while others declined to speak on the record or at all. When reached late Monday night, Gard said, “It’s so disturbing that somebody would take a private family meeting and make it for public consumption."
In his official statement through the university, Gard said, "Basketball seasons are full of highs and lows, wins and losses, moments of joy and frustration. The 2020-21 season, in particular, was made even more challenging and stressful due to the pandemic. I am proud of every student-athlete on our team that competed and persevered and gave what they could for the success of the team.
"Needless to say, I am incredibly disappointed to find out that a private meeting between seniors from our 2020-21 team and our coaching staff was secretly recorded, edited and made public. It shows a complete lack of care for our program culture and for the confidentiality that is owed to our student-athletes who wanted an opportunity to share their thoughts behind closed doors."
Earlier in his statement, Gard defended himself against accusations that he didn't care enough for his players, and in certain cases didn't have their backs. Potter, for one, took issue with Gard during the meeting for not defending Davison against perceived unfair treatment by game officials. That complaint seemed to sink in, as Gard took issue with officiating during a subsequent postgame press conference.
A more common grievance came from Reuvers and others.
“I just feel like, coach, we don’t have a relationship,” Reuvers said. “In my mind, it’s too late for that. I personally don’t think or feel like you care about our future aspirations.
“I can’t talk to you. I just don’t want to talk to you. After this, coach, I don’t know what type of relationship we’re going to have, if we have one.”
Players complained about Gard's perceived inability to connect with and instill confidence in his players, and at least one felt the meeting had little effect.
“To be honest, I think he still didn’t hear us,” a senior said of the February meeting. “He still didn’t get it.”
For his part, Alvarez, who turns the department over to Chris McIntosh next week, threw his full support behind Gard on Tuesday, stating, "Greg Gard and his staff, like all of our coaches last year, guided their program through the stress and difficulties of the pandemic and the team kept battling all the way into the NCAA Tournament. Greg, his staff and his team have my full support as they look forward to the 2021-22 season."