BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 02/06/2017

Thiel: Time for hoops change at UW, but how?

Firing Lorenzo Romar sounds easy, except he would get a $3.2 million buyout from a program swimming in red ink, and the Huskies would likely lose the program’s best recruiting class. Still,107-66 at a home sellout?

Coaches Michael Porter Sr., Will Conroy and Lorenzo Romar had no answers Saturday, or this season. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Dreadful as it sounds, we may have a hostage situation with the University of Washington’s men’s basketball program. After a 41-point loss Saturday to UCLA — as dismal a game at Hec Ed as I can remember, especially with the first sellout crowd in five years on hand — there is no pure-basketball reason for keeping Lorenzo Romar as coach.

I write that as someone who, as with nearly everyone who has engaged with him, likes and respects Romar for his character and values in a largely corrupt industry.

The hostages? The players and the fans who care about UW hoops.

Without malicious intent, Romar has largely protected his immediate future by nearly fire-proofing himself. If Washington, a program running an annual operations deficit for the past two years and likely for at least two more, were to fire Romar after the season, he would be owed a $3.2 million buyout. His 10-year contract runs through 2020.

Additionally, hiring an experienced replacement in the preposterous marketplace for major-college coaches would add to the UW’s financial problems, due substantially to the failed promises of the Pac-12 Networks.

Additional insulation is provided by a five-player recruiting class arriving in the fall that is ranked fifth in the nation by, whatever that means. Without anyone saying so directly, the implication is that all or most of the class will be lost if Romar is no longer at UW.

Logic says that makes sense, mainly because one of his assistant coaches, Michael Porter Sr., is the father of the incoming class’s star, Michael Porter Jr. of Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School.

If you haven’t heard already, the 6-10 Porter — who transferred here from Missouri with his little brother, 6-8 Jontay, also a potential premium recruit who has verbally committed to UW — is world-class and already would have made the leap to the NBA, if rules allowed.

It also happens that Romar is the kid’s godfather, thanks to a friendship with his dad that goes back more than 30 years to their days together playing for Athletes in Action, a Christian outreach organization that, according to its website, “helps sports-minded people think and live biblically at the intersection of sport and Christianity.”

Yet . . .

Even if the relationship between Romar and Porter Sr. is sincere and longstanding, Porter’s spot on the bench has done nothing to help the fortunes of this year’s team. At 9-14 (2-9 in the Pac-12 Conference), the Huskies, despite the presence of star freshman guard Markelle Fultz, are bad and getting worse.

Repeatedly this season, Romar has said the team was on the verge of turning the corner. Finally Saturday, it sounded as if Romar realized he’s been in a round room.

“I didn’t recognize our team,” he said. “Our team tonight was different. We didn’t seem to have the fight in us tonight to challenge a very potent offensive team.”

I asked him if he was surprised that nothing he has tried worked.

“I thought that we would be further along,” he said. “We certainly have tried different things. At some point, you can get really discouraged. I’m hoping tonight wasn’t the night we got really discouraged.”

He can hope all he wants. Saturday was discouraging for all UW participants and witnesses.

Sure, UCLA (21-3, 8-3) is ranked 11th with a legit shot at the Final Four. But Washington began the game with dropped passes, three-foot airballs and an inability to block out or move feet defensively. On several possessions, the Bruins simply whipped passes around the Huskies’ zone so efficiently that they didn’t even need to dribble to get to an uncontested shot.

At 18-4, the game was all but over. At 52-34 at halftime, it was over. The final 107-66 margin was the biggest defeat in Romar’s 15-year tenure, and the biggest in the program since 1998. The Bruins shot 61 percent from the field and outboarded UW 41-29.

Tension boiled over a bit in the first half when Romar benched reserve guard Carlos Johnson after three minutes. Upon leaving the floor, he confronted Romar, who followed Johnson to the bench. They were not exchanging Valentine’s greetings.

Romar didn’t say much about it afterward, so it wasn’t clear what happened. Johnson never returned to the game.

But if Johnson and his teammates aren’t pissed off about what’s happening, they don’t deserve to be on a Pac-12 team. Now that the Huskies seem destined to miss the NCAA tournament for a sixth consecutive season — Romar is the only coach among the biggest conferences to have survived five years of such lengthy bleakness — he addressed the question of his dismissal that is being sought by many outside the program.

“That has not been indicated to me by the people I work for,” Romar said. “At the same time, as head basketball coach, or as a leader, it all stops and ends with the leader. If the job is not getting done, then the leader has to own up to it. I’m owning up to it.”

That at least indicated self-awareness. But then he amended the remarks with a “however . . .” that explained how he rebuilt the program after numerous players transferred out in 2015, but was blindsided by the one-and-done careers of Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, both NBA draftees.

“You lose two of them, you’re kind of starting all over, but you take a couple steps back,” he said. Then he talked up the incoming class partly by throwing under the bus his current players who weren’t Fultz.

“These (2017 recruits) are more equipped to come in right away and help you,” he said. “This year we’ve had guys that were not key players, but were key role players, that have been asked to step in and become key scorers.”

But that sort of churn is the way it is with every program in the 11 years since one-and-done became the rule forced on colleges by the NBA. Romar hasn’t adapted.

Perhaps the most damning evidence came from a recent book by longtime college hoops writer Bud Withers. Glory Hounds that explores the ability of Gonzaga, the nation’s top-ranked team, to sustain its excellence.

Withers interviewed Nigel Williams-Goss, who transferred from Washington in the 2015 exodus, sat out a season, and now, as a 6-3 junior guard, leads the Bulldogs in scoring, assists and steals and is second in rebounding.

“I felt after my freshman year, a lot of the things we had talked about (that) were going to change going into my sophomore year, I didn’t see a lot of that change happening,” Williams-Goss told Withers. “It’s one thing, I feel like, to lose, but it’s another thing when you’re not doing everything in your power, or your capability, as far as preparation in trying to win. I just felt there were a lot of stones left unturned before games, and stuff like that. I had talked to past players, where they kind of had similar experiences . . . I just felt it was best for me to move on.”

“There are a lot of things that go into preparing and stuff at this level — the margin is so small at this level — and I just felt there were just a lot of things that weren’t being done that could have been done. That (they) said were going to be done that weren’t.”

Saturday’s game certainly was a talent mismatch, but it also seemed as if the Huskies had little plan and less gumption to execute it. Nothing in their play suggested anything had changed from the time Williams-Goss was at Montlake.

“I haven’t done a good enough job to get us to turn the page,” Romar said Saturday. “We’ve talked to our team about that: ‘We’re coming close.’  But if you ever get to a point where you take a step back mentally, it can get a lot worse. It got a lot worse tonight.”

The recruiting class with Porter sounds appealing. But the same anticipation was apparent for Williams-Goss, Murray, Chriss and Fultz.

Maybe Romar needs to hire back his former assistant, Ken Bone, who from 2002-05 dialed up a lot of success for the Huskies.

Oh, wait. He joined Gonzaga too, sitting next to Mark Few, whose Bulldogs beat the Huskies 98-71.

So the search continues for a corner in the round room.


  • Jamo57

    Yeah, they even put some of the hostages on the scoreboard video screen Saturday night. Three of the commits were in house and I remarked to my buddy next to me that it seemed like the shot was a sort of a plea that “things will be better next year”, with a subtle jab at this year’s roster.

    Interesting you mention Ken Bone. As I was reading this I was thinking a pipe dream of maybe Cameron Dollar won’t survive at SU and Romar could put his team of Bone and Dollar back on the bench beside him. That was the brain trust of the best years of the Romar era. Something has been missing since.

    • Husky73

      Jamo hit the nail on the head…also bring back Brad Jackson…another great teacher.

    • art thiel

      Undeniable that those assistants worked well. But Romar is unlikely to dump Porter or Conroy.

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  • WestCoastBias79

    You nailed it. UW is pretty much stuck with him and I’m kind of hoping he’s back just for that class. Romar has never been an X’s or O’s guy. He’s a good man and great recruiter. Not a good coach. I haven’t really been able to decipher a coherent UW offensive ethos since Dollar left.

    Could be worse, with Nance and Bender, they sucked and had no recruits.

    • art thiel

      Bender got them to the round of 16. Nance, not so much,.

  • disqus_0fotImVld4

    Romar has been sucked down the road of recruiting “one and done” athletes for several years and the results are disastrous. Fultz? What does it matter? He is not capable of running the type of offense that can win meaningful games, so why recruit him? There is no way to “build” team chemistry or excellence. What if Kelsey Plum was a “one and done” player? BTW–I would much rather watch the women play–at least they have what we can call a “team.” The men? What a joke.

    • art thiel

      Women have always played a better team game. But the virtue is not gender-specific.

  • disqus_0fotImVld4

    One more thing–Oregon brings in a coach and in 3 or 4 years he has a national contender. Romar? Time to move on, Lorenzo.

    • art thiel

      You may have read about some of the Ducks problems off the court.

    • Pixdawg13

      Altman got his program rolling with JC transfers. That’s just not an option at UW–the admission requirements in Montlake are considerably tougher than those in Ewegene.

  • 3 Lions

    What are the financial projections for the UW athletic department?

    • art thiel

      Jen Cohen has said they could be in the black in two years but provided no details. All P12 schools need to re-do the network. They built facilities based on higher rev projections via TV. Oops.

  • Effzee

    The program is a laughingstock, and has been for quite some time. Any optimism for the future is pure delusion, as all recent optimism has proven to be. I am not sure why the foregone conclusion seems to be that if they fire Romar, it will only get worse. Really? Aren’t there probably about 6 million capable X’s and O’s basketball coaches out there? This is 2017, not 1983. I reject any notion that dismissing Romar immediately leads to the abyss. Not firing Romar equates to living in the fear of the unknown, which is, quite honestly, no worse than what we are experiencing right now. Plenty of teams seem to be able to build a whole team, with chemistry, and guys that stick around for more than a few minutes. Team like, oh I don’t know… Gonzaga. The whole one-and-done thing was a trend Romar only jumped on once guys started deserting the program in droves, year after year. Fireproofing himself may not have been malicious, but its pretty obvious that it was done only to protect his own income. End this, now.

    • art thiel

      As I mentioned above, I think Romar was under orders from Woodward. Which explains why the hire of Porter was a two-fer with his sons, even if Woodward was gone.

      • Effzee

        Ugh. I didn’t register that it was “orders” from Woodward. Hiring a dude to get his sons to come seems kinda unsavory to me. Oh well.

  • Husky73

    Excellent article this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Pac 12 Network. But, to the point…..I like Romar…a lot…he’s been great for the University and the community….but he got rid of (or they left him…) his “teaching” coaches— the guys that actually have the teaching skills and the expectations on how defense and offense are to be played. His assistant coaches now are a recruiter or two and a couple of no-experience back patters. The one and dones have not worked out. It is time, reluctantly, for a new coach. Suck up the financial burden (the colossus that is the UW can erase a deficit with 100 phone calls), and sacrifice another season or two by bringing in someone around the Wichita State-Butler-Wisconsin mold who will bring in 4 and 5 year players and build a consistent contender.

    • art thiel

      Romar was seeking four-year guys until Woodward told him to jump into the one-and-done world. Can’t say he didn’t do well there, but making a team out of them hasn’t worked.

  • wabubba67

    It doesn’t matter if you have great recruits, but can’t coach fundamentals on a daily basis. The program is better served to start at square 1 again, rather than being in another talented and underachieving class.

  • woofer

    “Maybe Romar needs to hire back his former assistant, Ken Bone, who from 2002-05 dialed up a lot of success for the Huskies.”

    If there is an answer, this would be it. Romar’s problem is not that he doesn’t know how to coach; it’s that he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know how to coach. It’s OK to have a head coach who is the face of the program and chief recruiter while leaving the actual teaching to others. Romar’s pursuit of one-and-done prima donnas only makes his deficiencies more glaring. If you don’t have in place a disciplined program to corral these guys, they run wild.

    I was surprised that when Bone was fired from WSU he wasn’t picked up immediately by UW. He spent a year in exile in Montana before coming to Gonzaga. Pay him whatever it takes to bring him back to Seattle. The cost would be far less than a Romar buyout and would give the Dawgs at least a shot at making something out of next year’s recruits.

    • art thiel

      Remarrying your ex is never problem free.

  • 1coolguy

    The pre-eminent sports writer in the Northwest has just called for Romar to go. Hurrah! $3.5m buyout is very affordable considering the misery Husky fans are enduring, especially with all the information provided in this column. There is no need to describe the program further.
    As to the possibility of missing out on a recruiting class, why would a recruit not want to play for a coach with a proven winning record, compared to the present?
    The program needs a new HC who provides a new direction, new attitude and new system. All other Husky sports are performing with men’s BB the laggard. There’s nowhere to go but up, is the reality, and Jenn, get on the phone and hire someone during the tournament.
    Art – We can all appreciate your position and writing this column about someone you know well was not easy, yet needed to be done.