UW-Madison investigated allegations last year that then-men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan misused university resources while having an affair with a woman, later clearing him of any wrongdoing, university officials said Saturday.
Both the university and Ryan said the affair and investigation did not prompt Ryan’s seemingly abrupt decision to retire Dec. 15, midway through the season.
In a statement sent to the Wisconsin State Journal, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the investigation by the school’s Office of Legal Affairs and Athletic Department was triggered by an email sent to the school in February 2015 by the woman who had the affair with Ryan. The woman alleged in part of her email that Ryan used university resources in pursuing the affair.
“The university determined on May 13, 2015 that Ryan did not utilize university resources during the course of the relationship in question,” Blank said. “The university concluded the issue was a private matter. Bo Ryan’s resignation on Dec. 15, 2015 was entirely his decision.”
Ryan said he resigned because he wanted to give his top assistant, Greg Gard, an opportunity to coach the team.
The Badgers were playing poorly and had a 7-5 record when Ryan left. In an interview with the State Journal shortly after he resigned, in which he denied having an affair, Ryan said he was tired and didn’t want to coach this season but stayed on because Gard was dealing with the death of his father.
“My wife, Kelly, and I believed that the University’s findings concluded this matter,” Ryan said in a statement Saturday issued through his attorneys.
“To be clear, this matter was absolutely unrelated to my retirement many months later. In fact, I timed my retirement intentionally to assure that Greg Gard got his hard-earned opportunity to coach the University of Wisconsin basketball team.”
UW senior associate athletic director Justin Doherty said athletic director Barry Alvarez would have no further comment and the Athletic Department would let the chancellor’s statement stand on its own.
During an interview with the State Journal on Dec. 21, the day Ryan submitted his retirement letter, Alvarez was asked if Ryan’s sudden retirement had anything to do with rumors of an extra-marital affair.
“No,” Alvarez said. “That’s a personal thing with Bo. That’s between he and his family. That had nothing to do with us.”
Alvarez also denied that day that he had forced out Ryan or encouraged him to step down.
The woman’s Feb. 11, 2015, email was sent to Ryan, Blank and senior Athletic Department officials Walter Dickey, Terry Gawlik and Bruce Van De Velde. Although the name of the woman who sent the message was blacked out, UW spokesman John Lucas confirmed the woman is Robin Van Ert, a massage therapist from Madison.
After a message requesting an interview was left on Van Ert’s phone Saturday, she responded via text with a request to call her attorney, Bruce Schultz. When contacted, Schultz said he didn’t wish to comment at this time.
Ryan, 68, acknowledged the affair during the university’s investigation but also denied Van Ert’s allegations that he treated her inappropriately, records show.
He issued that denial during a meeting with Raymond P. Taffora, vice chancellor for legal affairs, and Dickey, deputy athletic director.
Ryan’s statement Saturday said that he made a mistake in his private life and has taken responsibility for his actions.
“I had a relationship with a woman who had no connection to the University of Wisconsin,” he said in the statement. “That relationship ended nearly 1½ years ago. I revealed this issue openly to the University, and encouraged them to review any activity to assure them that no University resources were misused.”
In the email, Van Ert wrote that Ryan took her on “numerous basketball recruiting trips to stay with him, including Kansas City, Las Vegas, Chicago and Minneapolis.”
She also wrote that Ryan used his university-issued phone to call her and also communicated with her via text and voicemail messages.
“I am not sending this to you for attention nor gain or for anyone to feel sorry for me,” Van Ert wrote. “I take full responsibility for my actions and unfortunately I believed the things he said to me. However, I do feel and I believe most in the community would agree with me that a man who is manipulative, a liar, cheater and deceptive, should not be coaching and mentoring or be a role model to the young men on the basketball team.
“He lied and deceived me, his family and the University of Wisconsin. A university that prides itself on excellence. I’ve never even received an apology from him nor an explanation for the mental abuse and the roller coaster he put me on, which speaks volumes about his character.”
Van Ert wrote that the purpose of her email was to tell school officials “who the real Bo Ryan is.” She also called him “a predator and I do not wish any other woman to fall prey to him.”
“While I strongly believe he should no longer be at the UW or any university for that matter, I am not sure what will happen,” she wrote. “I do however ask that at the very least, he and his phone be monitored more closely.”
In a letter to Van Ert dated May 13, 2015, Taffora and Dickey wrote that the school’s investigation included looking at email messages between Ryan and her going back to 2009 and an examination of Ryan’s expense records, also dating to 2009.
They wrote they couldn’t examine any text or voice messages because they no longer existed. They also examined several flight itineraries that she gave them in which she claimed she accompanied Ryan on recruiting trips.
“The University’s review of the information you supplied, together with an examination of expense reports and email messages described above, does not indicate that Coach Ryan made improper use of University resources,” Taffora and Dickey wrote in their letter to Van Ert.
“We did not find any evidence where an expense associated with any airfare, hotel room stay, food, drink, or entertainment expenses for you was borne by the University. In fact, in our interview of Coach Ryan, he denied submitting any request for reimbursement of expenses attributable to you and indicated that he paid the expenses for you for these items himself. Our review of the men’s basketball team’s expense reports also did not uncover any evidence of the misuse of University resources where another member of the men’s basketball team staff submitted an expense reimbursement statement (or was reimbursed) for those expenses attributable to you.”
Van Ert wrote in the email that she had recently ended the affair with Ryan that lasted nearly six years.
“Unfortunately, it became a very unhealthy situation for me to the point that I nearly ended my life, and while Bo was aware of this, multiple times when I tried to end the relationship or move away, on his hands and knees he begged me to stay, pleading with me to not leave him,” the email said. “Telling me he needed me and continually asking me to just be patient. As much as I loved him, I could no longer settle nor tolerate the mental abuse and realized that his talk of being together, marriage, etc., were just words.”
The email went on to say that Ryan’s family found out about “his infidelity” as she ended their relationship. “I believe they have a right to know the caliber of the man they call “husband”, “father” and “grandfather,” the email said.
Van Ert said she “didn’t entertain” Ryan immediately after meeting him but said Ryan won her over with his persistence. “He said he loved me, that we would be together someday, that I’d make a great wife, he would have children with me and even went as far as to call me his soul mate in front of his friends,” she wrote.
Ryan referred to his wife, Kelly, in his statement Saturday: “I am a lucky man. Through Kelly’s strength and understanding we have gotten through this difficult situation together. Throughout my career I have worked to help others. Now I am in the position of receiving help from Kelly, who has taught me a lot about forgiveness. Our focus is on moving forward in a relationship that is stronger than ever.”
News of the investigation was first reported Saturday by sports website Deadspin. The revelations come after months of rumors and investigation by media outlets, including the State Journal. The university said Saturday it was still responding to a State Journal records request for documents relating to Ryan’s departure.
The UW men’s basketball team, which plays at Purdue today, was told Friday that a story about Ryan had been written and would be published soon, Doherty said.
“We didn’t want them to be caught off guard,” he said.