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Lorenzo Romar had to go as Washington men’s basketball coach, despite fond memories

Lorenzo Romar in happier days, wearing the net after Washington defeated Washington State 67-60  to win the Pac-10 championship in Seattle in 2009. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Lorenzo Romar in happier days, wearing the net after Washington defeated Washington State 67-60 to win the Pac-10 championship in Seattle in 2009. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

SEATTLE – This had to be done.

After 15 years as the Huskies men’s basketball coach, Lorenzo Romar was fired. The most successful tenure in University of Washington hoops history came to an end on Wednesday.

Romar was beloved on campus, admired in the city and embraced in gymnasiums everywhere. He attracted some of the country’s best talent with his charm and reputation alone.

Memories of him should be fond, and if he returns to Hec Ed for a Husky game, cheers should be loud. But sorry – this had to be done. Things just weren’t going to get better.

The trajectory of UW men’s basketball had gone from delightful to disappointing to depressing. A team that had six seasons of at least 24 wins under Romar devolved into scout-team-level status.

Despite having Markelle Fultz – the likely No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft – the Huskies went 9-22 overall and 2-16 in the Pac-12. Opponents started looking at them the way a lion does a zebra.

It would be one thing if this were an anomaly on the heels of incessant success. Instead, it was a disaster on the heels of incessant mediocrity.

UW has long been surrounded by some of the best high school players in the nation, yet it hasn’t had a winning conference record in five years. That’s not going to cut it – so Romar had to be cut.

“When we recruit student-athletes here, we offer them an extraordinary education in a world-class institution, but we also offer them the opportunity to be the most competitive athletes that they can be,” said Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen, who made the decision to let Romar go. “In the end, after a thorough evaluation, we felt like a leadership change was necessary to create the championship culture we think Washington deserves.”

This had to be done – even though some thought otherwise.

Upon hearing the news Wednesday, former Washington forward Quincy Pondexter tweeted that Romar’s firing was a “huge mistake!”

After all, it was last November that 6-foot-9 forward Michael Porter Jr. – the nation’s No. 1 recruit – signed a letter of intent to play with the Huskies. And joining him would be Garfield’s Jaylen Nowell and Daejon Davis, both of whom were considered among the top 85 prep players in the country.

The trio would comprise the best recruiting class in program history, and likely keep a good portion of the Alaska Airlines Arena seats occupied. So why not give Romar one more chance?

Easy – because he’d had more than enough of them.

Six seasons ago, the Huskies had Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten – each of whom was drafted in the first round – and missed the NCAA Tournament. Three years ago, they missed it with first-rounder C.J. Wilcox, just like they did with Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray one season later.

Attracting talent was never the issue. Maximizing that talent was. Fultz just had the best individual season in Huskies history. His team may have its worst.

Of course, there are almost always factors beyond a coach’s control that can lead to a program’s decline. In 2012, the Huskies won the regular-season Pac-12 championship, but somehow missed the NCAA tournament, and they never really recovered.

Romar confessed that his recruiting strategy was misguided over the next couple of years but thought he made the necessary adjustments since. He was also surprised Chriss and Murray bolted for the NBA after their freshman seasons, which left Fultz without potent complements.

Even so … to go 9-22 and 2-16? There isn’t an excuse for that.

Once known for their defense, the Huskies gave up more points in Pac-12 play than any other team this year. Once known for their hustle, they watched Gonzaga’s 300-pound center Przemek Karnowski fly by all of them for a layup in Spokane.

Romar would say things like “come back and watch us in two weeks,” but they’d only be worse. The coaching staff, it seemed, had become all recruiting and no teaching.

Despite all this, Cohen still struggled with her decision. Not only will Romar’s ouster likely cost the Huskies Porter Jr., his buyout clause will cost the school $3.2 million.

That’s a brutal two-punch combo, but as any athlete will tell you, sometimes you have to endure pain to get better.


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