Sports Out West

Washington Huskies: Is it time to fire Lorenzo Romar?

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The Washington men’s basketball team will not be headed to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. A 67-61 loss to Utah in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday means the Huskies will finish the season with a 17-15 record, leaving even an NIT bid in doubt.

That makes three consecutive years the UW has been left out of the big dance despite having two NBA players in 2011-12 and another potential one this year in C.J. Wilcox. Fans in Seattle are beginning to question whether it’s time to fire head coach Lorenzo Romar and move in a different direction.

In short, the answer is no.

Romar is the best thing to ever happen to UW basketball, which hadn’t been relevant for nearly two decades prior to his arrival. In 12 seasons with the Huskies, Romar has a .639 winning percentage, three Sweet Sixteens and three conference championships. The UW isn’t going to attract a bigger name should the job open up.

Anyone who has followed UW basketball closely over the past few years has probably been frustrated with Romar’s in-game coaching on more than one occasion. His teams have also struggled on the road and tend to underperform compared to their talent level. Perhaps the biggest complaint about Romar is that he schedules a weak non-conference slate, which doesn’t prepare his team for Pac-12 play and makes it difficult to make the tournament. 

What Romar excels at is recruiting. Recruiting for UW basketball is a difficult task, more so than in football. Along with the rest of the Pac-12, the Huskies have another outstanding in-state program to compete with in Gonzaga, plus other strong western teams like San Diego State and UNLV.

Seattle is a nationally underrated basketball recruiting hotbed, and Romar has done a good job of getting local kids to stick around. Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman, Spencer HawesTony Wroten and Isaiah Thomas are all Seattle-area recruits who played at the UW during the Romar era. Several of those players have had successful careers in the NBA.

It’s not like the Huskies have been uncompetitive during their NCAA dry spell, either. Three years ago, the UW went 24-11 to win the Pac-12 regular season, and was one of the first teams left out of the tournament. This year, the UW lost Jernard Jarreau for the year in the season’s opening minutes, had Desmond Simmons miss a significant period of time and saw Sean Kemp Jr. battle Graves’ Disease. Any coach would struggle having three key frontcourt members impacted like that.

Washington will never be Arizona or UCLA. All the Huskies can ask is that Romar remains competitive with the other teams in the Pac-12 and be occasionally good enough to challenge the top. For the majority of his stint at Montlake, Romar has done exactly that.

It’s admittedly a dangerous line of thinking to become complacent with a coach who has brought past success, and isn’t the right option for all teams. If the UW was a basketball power, or if both recruiting and level of play slipped for a period of 2-3 years, it might be time to examine Romar more critically. For the Huskies, neither of those situations appears to be the case.

The future looks bright enough, with a young star point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss and several decent role players returning. Both the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes are promising so far, and 6-foot-11 Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw has the potential to be an impact player next season.

Romar might not ever lead the Huskies to the Final Four. He is the coach that will give them the best chance. 

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press 

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.