Dan Monson and Lorenzo Romar received calls from former Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges telling them the same thing. Washington wants you to run the basketball program. They just came at separate times.
Monson’s came first. He decided to leave upstart Gonzaga to become the Minnesota coach. When the Washington job opened three years later in 2002, he was offered the position. He accepted, then changed his mind, sticking it out at Minnesota.
Romar’s phone jangled a short time later. It was Hedges asking, “Are you ready to be the new coach?”
Monson said no at the time. Romar said yes. How their paths have turned since.
Monson totes regret into town with his Long Beach State 49ers for Tuesday night’s 8 p.m. tip against Washington. Post practice on Monday, Monson said he should have stayed at Gonzaga or taken the job at Washington.
He makes a logical argument for his decision to leave Gonzaga. Monson points out the program was not elevated to its current position when he left. There wasn’t a chance for a national title. Yet.
As for staying at Minnesota? It was an easy list of pros and cons. Washington had stunk much of the 1990s and into the new century. Minnesota was above .500 year after year, filling the gym with 13,000-15,000. Just 3,000 or so wandered into Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the time.
Romar figured his interview was a courtesy move by Hedges. She had done it before. When Romar was an assistant at UCLA, Hedges, spurred by Bruins head man Jim Harrick, had a chat with Romar. This next time around he figured the same thing was happening.
“I never felt she was really serious,” Romar said. “The second time it was available we talked. People tell me there were others that were ahead of me, I don’t know what happened. I never felt that she was really serious until she called me. That was the first time I thought I really had a chance to be the coach.”
Romar, a blessed storyteller, re-enacted his response to Hedges’ call with trembling hands and an open mouth.
That was the difference. Monson, though a Spokane native, did not have the fervor for Montlake the way Romar did. As an alum, he was addicted to Washington. Not to mention other vital factors.
While coaching St. Louis, the Billikens played in renovated Hec Ed. Romar became lost in the halls. He was impressed with the changes. The roster was another influence.
“I looked at the guys that were signed,” Romar said. “I remember seeing Anthony Washington, Mike Jensen (who was redshirting that year), and I was looking at their sizes, 6-10, 6-8, No. 1 power forward on the West Coast.
“This guy named Roy, that I had heard about and read about but I had not seen play. And people kept telling me about this guy that played football named Robinson that was really good, too, but he just wasn’t ranked really high.”
Romar saw a confluence of program builders. Good conference, good facility, youngsters in the wings. Knowing high school freshman Jon Brockman and Martell Webster were around town helped, too.
“You could just see if you could keep players home with what they already had, you’ve got a chance to improve pretty quickly,” Romar said.
It’s nine years later and Monson took Monday to talk about not getting blown out on Tuesday night. Romar explained his team’s narrow losses to top 10 programs in Hawaii last week.
A reaffirmation of the sliding doors theory will be anchoring the sideline on Tuesday night. One stepped in, one stepped out. Now they rest on different planes.