Consider it a glowing testimony to Lorenzo Romar (the man) that Lorenzo Romar (the coach) lasted as long as he did at the University of Washington.
Fired on Wednesday, Romar spent 15 seasons as men’s basketball coach for the Huskies, and was an unwaveringly positive ambassador for the university, and a man who built strong relationships with his players.
He took the program to an unprecedented level.
And by the way he coached and led his teams — whether winning or losing — he served as a visible blueprint for how his young men should conduct themselves.
How many universities would love to be able to say that about their coaches?
But the last six years of average-to-awful play meant it was time to redefine what the athletic department needs from one of its flagship programs.
Athletic director Jen Cohen announced the firing Wednesday afternoon.
The weight of cumulative losing (13 straight games to end this season, and a 16-38 conference record in the past three seasons) gave a sense of the inevitable to the firing.
Still, this seems a curiously ambivalent instance in which Romar’s critics are unlikely to be celebrating with much gusto, while his legion of supporters might find it hard to complain about this being a terrible injustice.
Romar built the Huskies into a conference powerhouse, taking them to six NCAA Tournaments, with three trips to the Sweet 16. That can’t be overlooked or forgotten.
But there were no NCAA appearances in the last six seasons, and the Huskies finished no higher than eighth in the Pacific-12 Conference in the last four seasons.
Romar was at a loss to arrest the steep skid, which made his program seem on such an irreversible trajectory.
After the 107-66 loss at home to UCLA on Feb. 4, Romar said that he didn’t recognize his own team. Neither did the fans.
What went wrong? In 2006, the NBA instituted it’s early-entry (one-and-done) rule. In 2012, Romar saw Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten taken in the first round, starting a steady stream of first-round talent leaving the Huskies early.
With Markelle Fultz destined to be first-rounder, Romar will have coached six first-round picks since 2012. And none of those teams made the NCAAs.
Romar the recruiter boosted Romar the coach, but the coach was unable to solve the problem of translating great talents into consistent winning teams.
Near the end of each of the past three seasons, the question about Romar’s future has risen. I have always argued for patience, and the recognition that Romar greatly elevated this program, and did it with class and integrity.
And each year, part of the support he received was due to the reality that he had more great recruits lined up, and surely he deserved the chance to get the momentum turned around.
In some ways, that’s even more the case for next season, with Nathan Hale’s Michael Porter Jr. headlining what is expected to be Romar’s best recruiting class. Along with an expensive buyout, it was an argument to stay the course.
Romar is a gentleman, a man of carriage and bearing. I would argue that he’s the kind of man you’d like your children to play for.
But it’s clear that the university needed to take a different direction.
A university with the resources of Washington should be able to get a coach who is a first-class individual and whose teams are winners. Football coach Chris Peterson is proving that.
That didn’t make this easy for anybody.
Right now, a fine man is looking for work while the university is in the difficult position of having to find somebody who is the caliber of person as Lorenzo Romar and who can return the program to the level Romar once sustained.
It will be hard to find that kind of a replacement for Romar. But it was clear that it was time to try.