Pat Murphy didn’t need to hear the buzzer that signals a pending substitution to know he was coming out of the game.

It was late in his career with the UW-Platteville men’s basketball program in the early 1990s, and Murphy had just committed a cardinal sin in epic fashion during a game against rival UW-Whitewater. While attempting to inbound the ball to star guard T.J. Van Wie in the corner, Murphy’s pass was so erratic the ball somehow ended up wedged behind the backboard.

When Murphy arrived at the Pioneers’ bench, coach Bo Ryan was waiting there for him with a how-could-you-have-done-something-so-dumb look on his face.

“I looked at Coach, and he kind of gave me that death stare,” Murphy said. “Some guys have felt that more than others.”

Tell that story to Ryan’s players on the Final Four-bound University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team and they’ll nod their heads.

Been there, done that. Maybe their mistake wasn’t as embarrassing as Murphy’s, but they’ve all found themselves on the receiving end of Ryan’s wrath on more than one occasion, whether it be on the bench or during practice or in the film room.

Transgressions that are sure to make Ryan steam include committing a turnover, taking a bad shot, not following one of his rules on defense and letting your opponent grab an offensive rebound. Murphy, who played on the first of Ryan’s four NCAA Division III championship teams at Platteville during the 1990-91 season and is now the boys basketball coach at Monroe, refers to it as “consequences for doing the things that don’t take much talent.”

The death stare is one thing. It’s when Ryan opens his mouth that things really get uncomfortable, because his biting commentary can be equal parts animated and harsh and is often laced with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

It’s hard to argue with the results — Ryan has won 704 games in his career — but his coaching style isn’t for those who are easily offended. To play for Ryan, you’d better arrive with a thick skin or grow one in a hurry.

“It’s about being mentally tough,” said Travis Schreiber, who was on the 1994-95 Platteville team that won a national title. “It’s about trying to learn in the quickest way possible so you can win games. And that’s not always warm and fuzzy, but I think the intention is positive. He’s trying to teach, he’s trying to build a team.

“And I think the bond formed between teammates is really solid because they see what’s happening with the teaching style. It can bring guys together, whether you’re rolling your eyes at one point, you’re picking up a guy another time or busting his chops at a different moment.”
Support group

Some of the Badgers’ best bonding moments this season have come as the result of Ryan’s tough love.

A big reason UW (30-7) has reached the national semifinals, where it will play Kentucky (28-10) on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, is because it’s a tight-knit group that has stuck together in good times and bad.

UW sophomore forward Sam Dekker, who frequently draws Ryan’s ire, said it’s common for players to gather around a discouraged teammate in the locker room and offer support.

“You know when someone’s down,” Dekker said. “You know when someone’s upset with how practice went. You say, ‘Hey, Coach is going to say this, he’s going to do this. You’re a good player. We know it, now we’ve got to get it out of you.’

“I’ve been comforted, I’ve been the comforter. It happens.”

Senior forward Zach Bohannon got a scouting report on Ryan’s coaching style from his older brother — Jason Bohannon was a guard for the Badgers from 2006-10 — and figured that would prepare him for the first time he ended up in Ryan’s crosshairs.

It did, but only a little.

“It’s hard when you’re getting totally belittled,” Bohannon said. “It’s one of those things, it doesn’t matter who you are, a constant beating is going to take a toll on you.”

It’s clear from interviews with Bohannon, Dekker and junior point guard Traevon Jackson — another frequent target of Ryan in large part because of the position he plays — the Badgers have come up with a game plan of sorts to deal with Ryan’s criticism:

Let the sarcasm and screaming go in one ear and out the other, but listen closely for the lesson Ryan is trying to teach.

“It doesn’t matter how he says it, it’s the content of it,” Dekker said. “If you can decipher that well, you’re going to be fine.”

In fact, Ryan’s track record of success suggests an end result that is more than fine.

“It’s a lot easier to take criticism when you know the guy talking to you is the smartest coach you’re ever going to play for,” said Saul Phillips, who played under Ryan and later served as one of his assistants. “Who am I to argue?”