Cohen on Romar: 'I am convinced right now that he is the best guy to try and lead us through.'

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Hours after being named the permanent athletic director at the University of Washington, Jen Cohen tackled one of the thorniest issues heading into her tenure – the future of men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar.

“All of our coaches feel the pressure to win all the time,” Cohen said Tuesday during a radio interview with KJR’s Dave Mahler. “In talking with Lorenzo he’s got a burning desire to get this thing right. He’s still got a passion for this place and a commitment to it and he’s shown that.

“I am convinced right now that he is the best guy to try and lead us through.”

Cohen’s predecessor Scott Woodward gave Romar a 10-year contract extension that that pays him $1.7 million annually and expires after the 2019-20 season.

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Securing Romar to a long-term deal made sense in 2010 following a run to the Sweet Sixteen when he was drawing interest from college and NBA teams.

Since then, Washington has made just one NCAA tournament appearance and is enduring a five-year Big Dance drought – it’s longest since a 12-year absence between 1986 and 1998 . Romar is the only coach in a Power 5 conference who hasn’t taken their current team to the NCAA tourney in the past give years.

Cohen, UW’s former senior associate AD who served as the interim AD since January, said she’s had several conversations with Romar about the schools expectations for the Huskies.

“Washington has every it needs to be successful at a high level in basketball,” she said. “This is a great basketball town. We got great local talent. We’ve had incredible guys that have come through this program and graduated and gone on and had successful careers.

“We expect to be in the postseason and we expect to be competing for championships.”

Cohen noted improvement in the program after three years of declining wins. Following seasons of 16, 17 and 18 wins respectively, Washington finished 19-15 last season. Still, the Huskies were 9-9 in the Pac-12 and eighth in the conference standings. UW was eliminated in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament – it’s third NIT appearance in the past five years.

Romar’s ability¬† to land stellar recruiting classes the past two years may have kept him employed at UW. The Huskies bring in prep All-American Markelle Fultz next season a year after securing a top-10 ranked 2015 recruiting class. UW also appears to be close landing Michael Porter Jr., who is considered the No. 2 2017 recruit. Porter’s father was recently hired to Romar’s staff and his younger brother Jontay has verbally committed to UW.

A dip in the Huskies athletic department’s revenue may also play a role in Romar’s tenure. Cohen said the school had been exploring building a basketball-only facility, but those plans have been delayed due to a desire stabilize finances within the department.

Here’s the transcript of Cohen’s interview with KJR radio that pertained to Romar and the UW men’s basketball team.

(What do you think about the UW men’s basketball team, coach Lorenzo Romar and a five-year NCAA tournament absence?) “Washington has every it needs to be successful at a high level in basketball. This is a great basketball town. We got great local talent. We’ve had incredible guys that have come through this program and graduated and gone on and had successful careers. Lorenzo and I have had several conversations about this already. We both know what our expectations, which is we got to improve. And we expect to be in the postseason and we expect to be competing for championships. He’s done it before and my goal and what my responsibility – you asked what an AD do? – our biggest job is to get in there and roll up our sleeves and do everything we can for all of our programs so that they can be successful. That’s my commitment right now. It’s evaluating what do they need to take it to the next level and that’s where my commitment is.”

(Is Romar under pressure to win right now?) “I think all of our coaches feel the pressure to win all the time right now. Everyone does. I know in talking with Lorenzo he’s got a burning desire to get this thing right. He’s still got a passion for this place and a commitment to it and he’s shown that. He showed that last year with the recruits that he brought in. There was definitely some uptick in the season. He showed us a lot of excitement. I tell you what, they got some great talent coming in next year so we fully expect to see them be competitive going into next season.”

(Are you convinced Romar is the right man for the job?) “I am convinced right now that he is the best guy to try and lead us through.”

(What’s happening with the basketball facility?) “We started talking about basketball ops when we started building Husky Stadium so those conversations my guess would have been started in 2012. It is for sure our next capital project as a priority. However, right now we’re really focusing on overall financial stability for the athletic department. Much like a lot of other schools that are out there, the landscape of college athletics is changing. So we’re seeing increases in expenses for student-athlete welfare, which is awesome by the way, but it comes at a cost. And revenues is not keeping pace to where we expect to be. So we’re not in a position right now to go out and borrow money to build. We have several different scenarios the cost needs to come down on for it to be realistic for us, but it’s definitely going to be part of our strategic plan going forward.”