SportsHigh School Sports


'It's been so rewarding': Former UWGB coach Ryan making mark as a high school assistant

About a year after his rocky run at Green Bay ended, Will Ryan is now working with one of the state's top high school programs - and spending some quality time with his sons along the way.
Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 18:45:47-05

DE PERE, Wis. (NBC 26) — About a year removed from his dismissal from UW-Green Bay, Will Ryan is still finding joy in basketball.

The former Phoenix coach has spent the year as a high school assistant coach with defending state champion De Pere, teaching the game he loves and spending some quality time with his sons along the way.

  • The 45-year-old Ryan, who has more than two decades of college coaching experience, is working with the De Pere basketball program as a JV2 assistant coach.
  • His son, Owen, is a freshman at De Pere and is on his team. Ryan also has two other sons, Liam and Callen, in the Redbirds program.
  • Ryan was fired from UW-Green Bay last January. He posted a 15-61 record in two and a half years on the job.
  • This season, Green Bay is 17-10 under new head coach Sundance Wicks and in position to win a Horizon League title. Ryan said he is aware of the success, but said he has not watched the Phoenix this season.
  • Ryan said he misses college basketball "each and every day" but is not sure if he will get back into the NCAA coaching ranks.

Will Ryan's tenure at UWGB didn't go according to plan.

The former Phoenix coach went just 15-61 in two and a half years at Green Bay.

"There's a lot to learn (from that)," Ryan said. "We weren't afforded enough time to try to get it right."

"I never lost love for the game," he said. "Maybe some of the background noise and the politics of it all, that's maybe something I don't miss."

Ryan, who took the UWGB job in June of 2020, pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of player movement spurred by the transfer portal as reasons for his struggles with the Phoenix.

Now, he's trying his hand with a different level of basketball: high school freshmen.

Ryan is an assistant coach for De Pere High School's JV2 team.

"It's a little different," he laughed. "I love the game so much. I love being in the gym. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

With more than 20 years of college coaching experience, he lends a rare level of expertise to one of the state's top programs.

"I think it's really beneficial for our players," Brian Winchester, De Pere's varsity head coach, said. "To have him in the program and have him coach those guys and be able to give some insight and nuance to basketball that maybe a few other people wouldn't be able to give."

It's also given Ryan a unique opportunity for some family time. His oldest son, Owen, plays on his JV2 team.

"It's just been so rewarding to be around my sons," Ryan said. "I wouldn't get a chance to do this if I was still coaching in college."

"To a lot of our players he's just dad," Winchester said. "So they see him in probably a little different light than a former Division I coach who's now coming into the program."

Ryan said he isn't sure what's next in his coaching journey. It could be college, high school, or even something else in the basketball realm.

"De Pere would be a tough place to leave," Ryan said.

"I do miss college basketball each and every day," he added. "But at the same time, I'm lucky enough to get to coach my sons and a bunch of really good kids in the town of De Pere."

That decision will come in time. First things first, he finishes up his JV season this week. Then, he'll stay with the varsity squad as they chase a second straight state championship.

"I'm all for it," Ryan said. "I'd love to be a part of that. To share that with them. And just be a small piece and help out where I can."

De Pere's varsity team is 21-1 this season and is ranked No. 1 in the state. The Redbirds also earned a No. 1 seed in the WIAA Tournament.