Romar’s Huskies are 2-16 in Pac-12 play this season. But he has a recruiting class for the ages coming in, led by Michael Porter Jr., maybe the best player ever to join the Huskies. Fire Romar, and you risk losing all those players.
Lorenzo Romar has pretty much completed the checklist on what it traditionally takes to get yourself fired. Some would even say he’s going back for seconds.
Six years without an NCAA tournament appearance, barring a miracle this week? Check. Clear underachievement despite having a steady stream of future NBA players, including a pair of first-rounders in two of those seasons, and the likely No. 1 overall pick this year? Check.
A particularly brutal, soul-sucking 2016-17 season, one that featured 12 consecutive losses to end the regular season (likely to become 13 on Wednesday when Washington faces USC in the Pac-12 tournament), a 2-16 conference mark and embarrassing blowouts against state rival Gonzaga and conference rival UCLA (the latter by a 107-66 margin, Romar’s worst loss in 15 years at UW)? Check.
A lack of progress or growth from many players, and an aimless product on the court? Check. A rapid decline in confidence from the fan base in the coach’s ability to turn things around? Check.
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So it’s clearly time for the Washington administration to do the obvious thing … and keep Romar for another year. According to reports, that’s what UW has decided to do. Crazy. But here’s the crazier thing: It’s the right move, counterintuitive as that seems.
I’ll pause for the Romar detractors to hurl invective at me (but hopefully not tomatoes), and I can’t say I blame them. All my instincts say it’s beyond time for Romar to go, despite all the high-character traits and people skills that have made him such an endearing figure.
Yet it should be obvious by now that these are extraordinary circumstances facing athletic director Jen Cohen, a dilemma that cuts deeper than the obvious. Dave Mahler of KJR radio called this the toughest decision in Washington athletic history, and that might not be hyperbole. Anyone who thinks this is a cut-and-dried matter just isn’t being honest.
According to a report Monday from respected Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde, the decision already has been made to keep Romar, despite denials from UW. The school says it will evaluate the program after the season, but all along there has been a strong current leading in the direction of saving Romar’s job for another year, despite the disaster of a season.
By now, we all know the primary counter-argument (beyond the reluctance to pay a $3.2 million buyout for firing Romar, no insignificant matter). And it’s pretty much a mike-dropper — the fact that he has a recruiting class for the ages coming in, led by Michael Porter Jr., maybe the best player ever to join the Huskies. Fire Romar, and you risk losing all those players.
And, yes, we know the counter argument to the counter argument: Romar hasn’t done much with all the talent he’s had, so what makes you think it’s going to be different now?
I wrote earlier this season that it’s getting harder to have confidence in Romar, and that’s true. Somehow, the Huskies have abandoned all the traits that marked his best teams: a physical defense, dynamic up-tempo offense, and toughness on both ends of the floor. But the potential payoff of seeing what this special class can do, in this unique case, supersedes the risks of cleaning house. Namely, that the recruits will take a hike, and the program will continue to founder.
You retain Romar with the understanding that this is truly a put up or shut up juncture. Worst case, you delay the housecleaning by a year and save the school enough money to lure a higher-caliber replacement. Best case, you’ve made a strong tournament run with an exciting team that ushers in a return to the days when Romar made six NCAA tournaments in his first nine years and made three Sweet 16s. Just look what UCLA (which was 15-17 and 6-12 a year ago) has done with a dynamic class led by Lonzo Ball.
Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar, who was with Romar in those glory days — and it’s important to remember that, by most measurements, Romar is the most successful coach in the school’s history — staunchly defended Romar in a conversation Monday with my colleague, Matt Calkins.
Dollar made a strong point: What schools look for is great coaching and great recruiting. The Huskies have half of that equation nailed down, and it would be counter-productive to throw that away.
“Has it hit a dip? Yes,’’ Dollar, who played at UCLA, told Calkins. “But is it something that can be fixed? He’s fixing it. That’s what I would say. I think it’s going to be fixed and be fine. I’m a Bruin. If I was a Husky, I’d say you’d be crazy to make a move based on what’s coming.”
To help the coaching aspect, Cohen would be wise to prevail upon Romar to bring in an experienced X’s and O’s guy, such as he had with Ken Bone. The staff Romar has now is weighted heavily toward recruiting, and it has cost the Huskies when it comes to game-planning and in-game adjustments.
Romar’s future is a topic that has polarized Husky fans — many of whom remain loyal to the longtime coach. Whatever Cohen decides, it will tick off a large contingent. The loudest have been those rightly frustrated by the specter of possibly being the worst team in college history, by record, with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
But what all Husky fans should want, ultimately, is a shot at national glory. And incongruously, the best way to attain that, at least in the near future, is to keep Romar in a job his recent record says he doesn’t deserve.