After a 15-year tenure that included six NCAA Tournament appearances (including three Sweet Sixteen berths), but ended with six consecutive seasons without one, Lorenzo Romar’s University of Washington head coaching career ended Wednesday. Athletics Director Jennifer Cohen fired Romar, a week after his Huskies finished the season 9-22, the school’s the worst mark in 23 years.
The 58-year-old Romar, a former Huskies player hired as head coach in 2002 to replace Bob Bender, was one of the most well-liked figures in Washington sports history, and a three-time Pac-12 coach of the year.
An excellent recruiter — 11 of his players have been first-round NBA draft picks, and Markelle Fultz will become the 12th in a few months — Romar in recent seasons came up short in the Xs and Os department, which contributed heavily to failure to make the NCAA tourney field.
“As a former student-athlete, and an alum of the University of Washington, this is definitely not an easy day for me,” Romar said in a statement. “I was really looking forward to coaching our team next year and beyond. However, God had a different plan. I am proud of a lot of things we were able to accomplish in the 15 years that we were here. I want to thank all of the coaches, players and staff who have played a part in that success. I will always support the University of Washington, and pull for the Huskies.”
Cohen’s decision to fire Romar, a native of Compton, CA, who played four years in the NBA before turning to coaching, could not have been easy. The Huskies will have to pay Romar $3.2 million on the remaining portion of his contract and spend big to hire his replacement, at a time when the department in awash in red ink.
“After evaluating our men’s basketball program, I have determined that a change in leadership is necessary,” Cohen said in a statement. “Today is particularly difficult because Coach Romar is such a beloved member of our University community. I want to thank Lorenzo and his family for 15 years of dedicated service and sacrifice to our University.”
The Huskies risk losing perhaps the best recruiting class in school history, a five-player group starring 6-foot-9 Michael Porter Jr., who led Nathan Hale High School to an undefeated season and the state 3A championship.
The belief is that he will not play at Washington if Romar was fired. Porter’s father, Michael Porter Sr., served on Romar’s staff this past season after moving his family to Seattle to coach alongside his longtime friend and his son’s godfather.
Porter Sr., is already rumored to join Cuonzo Martin’s staff at the University of Missouri. Martin resigned after three seasons at Cal Wednesday to became Missouri’s head coach. Porter Sr. is a former coach at Missouri State and Porter Jr., is a native of Columbia, MO.
“Loved this coaching staff and couldn’t wait to start something special next year . . . this hurts,” tweeted Porter, Jr. Wednesday.
Romar produced a record of 298-196 in his 15 seasons, making him the winningest coach in school history. Although he coached five No. 1 draft picks in the past six years, he couldn’t get the Huskies into the NCAA tourney, the nadir coming this year when Washington lost its final 13 games, a school record, to finish 9-22 — and that with Fultz, who might become the No. 1 overall selection in the NBA draft (Fultz has announced his intention to go pro).
Before the slide, Romar directed one of the great runs in UW history: Three Sweet Sixteen appearances, three Pac-10 tournament championships, two regular-season conference titles, three NIT appearances, and a No. 1 seed in the 2005 tourney. Romar had eight tourney wins.
He coached future pros Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Isaiah Thomas, Jon Brockman, Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten and C.J. Wilcox, among others.
The Huskies at the time played to numerous sellouts. But in the past few seasons, he lost some significant talent to transfers, most notably Nigel Williams-Goss, who two years ago left for Gonzaga. He told the media after Gonzaga received a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday that he left Washington because he wanted a “chance to win championships.”
Romar played under legendary coach Marv Harshman at Washington in the late 1970s and will probably one day enter the Husky Hall of Fame. But Cohen said Thursday a change was necessary.
At a campus news conference Wednesday, she said the decision was made two days ago, saying, “I just wanted to see the program improving. That just didn’t happen.”
A nationwide search will be underway for the “right fit,” she said. “A good AD always keeps lists. I’m very confident.”
She said assistant Will Conroy, a former Huskies player, will stay on as an interim coach during the search. The fate of the rest of the staff will rest with the new coach, she said.
You were like a Father to me, You care about more than basketball and want you to know you mean a lot to me.
— Markelle Fultz (@MarkelleF) March 15, 2017
Huge mistake!! https://t.co/uPGpQ8K3nW
— Quincy Pondexter (@QuincyPondexter) March 15, 2017