Lorenzo Romar opens up in the hours after being fired and reflects about what went wrong that led to his demise at UW.
Lorenzo Romar doesn’t have many regrets about his 15 years at Washington.
However, the former Huskies men’s basketball coach, who was fired Wednesday, believes UW’s six-year NCAA drought and ultimately his demise can be traced to shift in recruiting philosophy in which the program tried and failed to land a bevy of five-star recruits.
In 2012 and 2013, the Huskies targeted a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans and ultimately missed on each one. Washington had four one-and-done players under Romar and never made it to the NCAA tournament during those seasons.
Romar is unsure what he’ll do next and is open to being a head coach in college or possibly an NBA assistant.
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(Was this a surprise?) “I can’t say it was a surprise. We had been talking and we had discussed some things that I needed to get better at and the program needed to get better at. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by it. I knew that there’s a chance that could happen. I was just hopeful that we were able to come back and coach next year’s team.”
(As much as you can, can you take me through the conversation with Cohen.) “In this conversation – now understand we’ve had multiple conversations over the last few weeks – but this particularly one she had made her decision and it was pretty much to inform me what her decision was.”
(You’ve never gone through anything like this.) “No. This is the first time.”
(So how did you process it? Or how are you processing it?) “If you would have – and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again – 15 or 16 years ago had said you have an opportunity, we’ll give it to you right now and go to Washington and be there coach for 15 years. You’ll be there as long as Marv Harshman was there. You will have success at your alma mater. You could take this or try to gamble for something else, I would say stop. Give me door No. 2. I’ll take that one. So we’ve been blessed to have been here this long. I hate to leave our guys and staff. I really hate to not be here for next year. I thought it could be really exciting. But it didn’t happen. I have no bitterness. I have no blame. I was here for a lot longer than a lot of coaches are in their current jobs at this level. It’s time to move on and see what God has planned next.”
(I remember you telling me when you left Pepperdine for Saint Louis that the hardest thing you ever had to do was tell the Pepperdine kids you were leaving. What was the conversation like today with your guys at UW?) “It was difficult there’s no doubt. The one difference is when I did it before, it was my choice so it made it even harder. This time there was not a whole lot that I could do. I don’t think any of these guys viewed me as somebody that was abandoning them or turning my back on them at all. Not that the others did. But it was still very hard.”
(I know it’s spring break so where you able to get everybody at the meeting?) “There was one guy that wasn’t there because he had already finished his final. But the others kind of had a two-part meeting. Some where finishing finals so we ended up getting to everybody. Close to everybody.”
(It’s not as if there’s a textbook to do these things, but would you have wished to have talked to guys before the news got out?) “Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Ideally, you want to tell your team and the recruits what’s taken place. But it’s just unavoidable this time.”
(What went wrong not just this season, but in the past few years?) “It kind of started with us taking that calculated risk with the recruiting and it didn’t pan out. It just seemed like we were climbing up hill. In the midst of all that, I probably tried to take on too much and spread myself thin. And probably allowed slippage in some areas. And we weren’t able to really get it back on track. We were close last year. But this year was different.”
(Was there a moment this season when you thought it wasn’t working. Because I’m going to be honest, I had major concerns when you guys gave up 100 points to a Division II team in the exhibition.) “Yeah, I was concerned in that game. I was concerned in the Yale game about defensively where we were. We were hopeful that as we gained more experience we would be better. By the end of the year we were better, but the damage had been done by then.”
(You built the program with a certain type of player who fit this style. Then you reach a certain amount of success and now you had 5-star kids returning your calls and in recent years committing to UW. Hindsight is perfect. It’s 20-20 as they say, but do you regret not just staying committed to the recruiting philosophy that got you so much success in the first half of your tenure at UW?) “There’s some things in life that you regret, but given the information that I had at the time, knowing what was close to happen and what was on the horizon, it would be hard not to try to take that chance to get those guys to come when it just seemed like it was really going to happen. Obviously, it didn’t work out. But without being able to look into the future and you can’t see what’s going to happen, it would still be hard not to try to get to that next level. I’m just thinking if we do that you can break through. You have a chance to breakthrough the Sweet 16 and get to the Final Four. But it obviously didn’t happen.”
(It’s strangely ironic that you’ve never been to the NCAA tournament with the one-and-done players that you’ve had.) “Correct. The only team that we had that had other veterans around – Tony Wroten was the one and done. He had a couple other older guys with him. That was the year we won the league and went 14-4. Spencer Hawes, Dejounte (Murray), Marquese Chriss and now Martell Fultz, those guys didn’t have a lot of veterans around them. A lot of veterans that were featured players already.”
(With that and maybe it’s a poor analysis, but are you better with the scrappy players, the hungry guys and guys who are three-star or maybe four-star recruits and not necessarily the can’t-miss targets?) “I don’t think there’s any question that the scrappiness, all of that, the passion, and guys with a chip on their shoulder, those type of players definitely fit our system really well.”
(What’s next for you?) “I don’t know. You wait and see. If there’s something out there where people feel that we can help them or I can help them be better and help their program. You wait for somebody to call first and see what’s going on. But I would like to coach in the right spot.”
(Are you thinking head coach or assistant. I talked to a few folks connected to the NBA and they floated your name in connection with the Los Angeles Clippers. It was kind of surprising to me, but thought I’d run that past you.) “Wow. We’ve talked enough where I’ve said I wouldn’t consider the NBA, but as I went on and gotten older I said maybe. But right now at this point, I just don’t know which way God is leading and door is going to open. That is certainly something that would be an exciting option. There’s no doubt about it. We’ll see. I’ve been coaching in college though so that’s where I’ve been for 21 years as a head coach.”
(I just don’t see you as a college assistant coach right now.) “Yeah, that wouldn’t be something I would really look to do right now I don’t think.”
(You thinking of staying in a power conference or would you be open to something at the mid-major level? Of course, this is not knowing if or who might give a call.) “Again, it depends on the job and the resources and the commitment. It’s too hard to determine and say there’s the ideal profile job that I’m looking for. I’m just open right now. It’s so fresh. I’m open to a lot of things.”
(Do you have a sense as to what’s next for Washington. You’ll be tied to the program for a long time no matter what happened today. What would you like to see the school do?) “Jen Cohen is an outstanding leader. She’s very smart. I’m sure she will do a good job in selecting the next coach. There’s good recruiting come up here in the area locally. I think there is an opportunity to build it back and get it back right. I certainly will be pulling for that.”
(You could probably help with this – not sure if it’s appropriate for you to do it or not – but do you reach out to players here and the recruits? Do you have any advice for them?) “In terms of reaching out, there’s kids that you develop a relationship with so I’m sure we will be talking. But those conversations aren’t scripted. I don’t know what will come out of them. But we did develop a relationship with kids so we’ll see.”
(The popular belief that this highly rated recruiting class, many of them and certainly the top kids in the class, would go elsewhere if you were fired. Do you think that’s true.) “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the recruits that are coming in. That’s obviously their decision, so I don’t know.”
(In hindsight, the decision to hire Michael Porter Sr., do you look back on that at all and say maybe that wasn’t the best move?) “Oh no. No. No. You talking about going back, I’d do that a thousand times out of a thousand.”
(You’ve told me about the history between you guys. I know you’re close and go back some time. But the perception of hiring your friend and recruiting his son and when Porter Sr.’s salary came out [He makes $300K annually]. Being honest, the optics aren’t great.) “We did it all with a very clear conscious. It was all above board. So I don’t … no. There was no shadiness to it at all. I understand why I did it and he understands why he did it. So no I don’t have any regrets on that.”