Some say that Romar has taken Washington Huskies Basketball higher than it has been in a long time. The verity of that statement depends on your definition of "a long time." The best description of what he has done in his time here is that he has taken the Washington Huskies to heights unseen since the Marv Harshman era. He is undoubtedly the best basketball coach the Dawgs have had since the recently passed Harshman - may he rest in peace.
Since Harshman, UW has seen four separate coaches walk through the doors of Hec Ed with the title University of Washington Head Men's Basketball Coach. I'll be honest in the fact that I had never heard the name Andy Russo before. He immediately succeeded Harshman, after William Gerberding forced the retirement of Harshman.
That is one way of a coaching transition to take place. Another is to have one coach fired and another hired, as happened recently at UCLA with Ben Howland being removed from his post and Steve Alford being hired away from New Mexico. There is still retirement, like Lute Olson several years ago. This is typically the most desired way to leave a job. Russo himself resigned, or quit, whichever term you prefer. Typically employers don't like when employees quit, unless the employee was really bad at their job and was going to be fired anyways. That could potentially save their previous employer money and hassle.
It may have been possible that Russo would have been fired anyways; he was unsuccessful in his several seasons leading the Dawgs on the court, but that is pure speculation. Washington basketball has not had a coach leave "for greener pastures" since William H. "Tippy" Dye left to be the Athletic Director at Wichita State University. Dye left because he wanted to be an Athletic Director, not a coach.
With the recent passing of Harshman, it seemed like an appropriate time to look at the history of Washington Basketball by coaching era. Washington has had 19 coaches in its history. In reference, UCLA has had 12 in its history, and Washington has had only ten in that timeframe (Washington had a basketball program about 20 years before the UCLA Bruins). UW doesn't have the hardware that UCLA does, thanks to some John Wooden fellow who couldn't stop himself from winning 10 National Championships and not sharing with the world. While UCLA has its banners, UW has its coaching stability.
I am going to skip going in-depth on the seasons that had what I presume were student coaches, or at the very least coaches of minimal consequence. Here is a list of their names with their career record:
- *No Coach* 18-11
- David Hall 19-7
- Warner Williams 11-1
- Oscar Olson 26-9
- Anthony Savage 24-4
- John Davidson 15-15
- Claude Hunt 8-19
There was also Stub Allison who coached for a season. He also coached football and baseball, and was another coach who had, most likely, a minimal effect on the program, but is the only one of the coaches listed so far that I am sure was not a student at the time.
This brings us to the one who many consider to be the best coach in the history of Washington basketball: Clarence Edmunson, better known as "Hec."
Clarence "Hec" Edmunson
Stats don't survive as far as I can tell to tell the tale of Hec, and how he achieved his success. His players played under the moniker Sun Dodgers. They played under the moniker of Vikings. Most of all, they played as Huskies. Edmunson coached Husky Basketball starting in 1920, after he was the head coach at the University of Idaho for two seasons.
He led Washington to an 18-4 record overall, 10-4 inside the Pacific Coast Conference. This would later be renamed the Athletic Association of Western Universities, but that is past Hec's time.
Edmunson is the winningest coach in the history of Washington basketball. If you go by total wins, his 27 seasons at the helm of Washington basketball gives him an edge. In addition to the total wins, he also claims an edge in another noncumulative category: winning percentage. Hec Edmunson has the best winning percentage of any Washington coach with at least 40 career games coached.
27 years is a long time. A single fluke season cannot artificially bump up the numbers; a single, fluky down season cannot ruin the numbers. Oftentimes in baseball you will hear about players being hot for an entire month, then go right back to their career numbers. There are hot and cold streaks with everything, including coaching. Over 27 years it is very possible to ascertain someone's "true talent" as the guys at Fangraphs like to say.
Side note: I am a firm believer in sabremetrics in baseball, and believe they are making their way into basketball as well. If someone follows the Ken Pomeroy blog I would be very interested in what he has to say about determining the "true talent of coaches" or anything simiar to that, for that matter.
UW has 18 All-American basketball players in their history. Seven of them were under the tutelage of Hec. He also was a track and field coach, and had the first three Olympic medalists from UW under his tutelage.
On the basketball court, Edmunson was without a doubt a top-4 coach in Washington's history. One could easily make a case that he was the best coach the Huskies ever had the privilege of calling their own. He is only one of four coaches (again, with the cutoff of 40 games coached for career) in the history of the program to have a career winning percentage above .600.
He coached before conference tournaments were a thing, and the NCAA Tournament was much smaller. He registered four conference regular season titles in his 27 years, and made it to the Big Dance one of those years. In the 1942-43 season he led Washington to the regional semifinals of the tourney (round of 16) only to lose to Texas, then again to Oklahoma in the regional third-place game. He lasted four more seasons before "retiring." It was more of a forced resignation. It seems UW has a problem with longstanding success: Edmunson, Harshman, even Don James to a degree.
Arthur McLarney followed Edmunson with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen again in the 1947-48 season. He did lead them to a third-place finish in their region in the NCAA Tournament with a win over Wichita State.
McLarney graduated from Washington State, and had a career in the MLB before taking jobs as an assistant coach for both the Washington basketball and football teams. This ultimately ended up with him as the successor to Edmunson. After three total seasons as the head coach, he resigned "due to stress." He finished with a career record of 53-36.
Eventually he spent one more season several years later as the co-head coach of Portland. The team went 9-13 in only their second year as a program. His time with Washington following the Sweet Sixteen trip was forgettable, and now what was the first word of this paragraph? Forgettable, like McLarney's seasons.
Following McLarney was the only coach who ever led Washington to the Final Four in Tippy Dye. He coached a team led by center Bob Houbregs to the national semi-final in 1952-53. In Dye's first year with the team, he led them to the Sweet Sixteen, creating a pattern.
After UW missed the Tournament the following season, Houbregs scored over 25 points per game and over 11 and a half rebounds per game to lead UW to the Final Four in the aforementioned 1952-53 season. With Dye at the helm, Washington made it further into the postseason than any other Washington team before it, and since.
Unfortunately, Dye never again made it into the postseason, as he had to compete against Pete Newell for the lone berth from the Pac-12. Newell won one National Championship with California, and never had a losing season outside of his first season, with most seasons having an extremely lopsided win-loss record in favor of the favorable outcome. Dye finished with a career mark of 156-91. He currently has the fourth-most wins out of any UW coaches, and third-best winning percentage according to my arbitrary cut off. As mentioned before, he left UW for a job at Wichita State.
Grayson, Duckworth, Winter
Once Dye left a void as coach of the Dawgs, Washington filled it with John Grayson to begin the 1959-60 season. Grayson spend one year prior at Idaho State, where he led them to a 21-7 mark, landing him the job succeeding Dye. Grayson didn't work out. His best season was in the 1961-62 season, where the team went 16-10 but with a 5-7 mark in the AAWU, good for third out of five teams.
Replacing Grayson (I cannot find out if he resigned, was fired, moved on or retired; if one of our more experienced readers has this sort of knowledge, it would be very helpful) was Mac Duckworth. Duckworth, did, well, worse. Much worse. Duckworth is the one and only coach who lasted more than a season, yet never posted a .500 record or better. He resigned following the 67-68 season.
Tex Winter came in and improved upon the foundation Grayson had built for the University. By that, I mean he finished with an overall winning record in his three seasons with the team. He had Steve Hawes for his final two seasons, which definitely helped his cause. Winter ended up as a Hall of Fame coach, but not for what he did at Washington.
Winter was essentially the innovator of the famed triangle offense that has led to much of the success enjoyed by Phil Jackson. He spent time at Kansas State, and was successful there, before shorter stints at several other colleges, including UW. He had more success as an assistant in the NBA, but never had the great amounts of success while he was at UW.
Kirk did an amazing writeup on the career of Harshman, read it again, and may he rest in peace.
Harshman was hired to replace Tex Winter who had been hired away to coach the Houston Rockets of the NBA. While Winter had been only modestly successful in his 3-year stint with the Huskies (going 45-35), he left behind a talented roster that included three future NBA players in guards Charles Dudley, Louie Nelson and center Steve Hawes. Those three helped lead Harshman's first Husky squad to a 2nd place finish (again to John Wooden's Bruins) and a 20-6 record. Unfortunately in those days the Pac-8 only sent the conference champ to the NCAA Tournament, so the Huskies were denied the opportunity to continue their season.
It was also a bittersweet season for the 67-year old Harshman. Despite the recent run of success for the program, University President William Gerberding had decided that the program needed a younger, fresher face to lead them and forced Harshman into retirement - a decision that was highly questionable at the time, and it only looks worse in hindsight.
Harshman had taken over a program that had only been modestly successful prior to his arrival. While Washington had a great run in the first half of the century under Husky Legend Clarence "Hec" Edmundson, momentum had tailed off greatly after the Final Four squad and Bob Houbregs gone; coach Tippy Dye struggled to replicate that success and gave way to John Grayson, Mac Duckworth and Tex Winter; combined, they had gone 62-98 in conference and 155-154 overall, finishing no higher than 3rd place in the conference during that stretch.
By comparison, Harshman compiled a 122-102 mark in conference and 246-146 mark overall, with 2 conference titles, 3 NCAA Tournaments and 2 NIT Tournaments under his watch. But rather than let Harshman make the call to decide when it was time to hand up his coaching duties, they made the call for him, and the program sunk to even lower depths than it had been prior to Harshman's arrival.
Harshman still ranks 2nd all-time in wins among Husky coaches behind Hec Edmundson and just ahead of Romar, and is clearly one of the top-3 coaches in Husky history.
Following Harshman, things went downhill quickly. Andy Russo was the immediate successor, and he took Harshman's players to the NCAA Tournament; they never advanced outside of the first round of the Big Dance, and had only one appearance in four years. Russo was fired after his fourth season.
Next was Lynn Nance. Nance didn't do much of anything good as head coach. The ex-FBI agent never had a winning record, and never finished higher than eighth in the Pac-10. This was probably the lowest Washington basketball has ever been. Nance made it four seasons, once again. UW was at the bottom of the barrel, when it came to basketball at this point.
Bob Bender, also somewhat ew
Bob Bender was next. Bender is reviled among many longtime fans of the UW. He was never successful as the coach. After he had spent four seasons as the head coach of Illinois State, he came to Washington and immediately improved upon Lynn Nance's 8th place finish in the conference. Just kidding, he did worse. He finished win a 5-22 overall record, and was ninth place in the Pac-10, which actually had ten teams.
The good news for Washington fans was that it never got worse from that point. The bad news? It was only a precursor that this would not be a fun time to be a UW basketball fan. Bender improved upon that horrific season to a 9-18 record, but only 5-13 inside the conference for the 1996-97 season.
Washington returned juniors Todd MacCulloch and Donald Watts, along with sophomore Deon Luton. All averaged over 15 points and Washington made it to the Sweet Sixteen, where they fell prey to Rip Hamilton's buzzer beating fadeaway jumper. I will not link to it for those of you who can remember that moment; I don't feel like you want to relive it.
All three returned the following season, and the only one whose scoring increased was MacCulloch, while the others regressed in their offensive output. Washington still made it to the NCAA Tournament, but was upset by Miami of Ohio in the first round after a second consecutive fourth-place finish in the Pac-10.
Bender's teams never improved on that first Sweet Sixteen performance and subsequent First Round exit. They went 10-20 the next two seasons and 11-18 before he met the ax following the 2001-2002 campaign.
Hired next was Lorenzo Romar, who has revived Washington basketball to the success of the Harshman era.
In the 15 seasons before Romar got the job, Washington had two appearances in the Big Dance, in consecutive seasons. There was no sustained success, nothing for him to build off of. He instantly made a difference. Will Conroy developed into one of the best point guards in UW history, after spending his freshman year under Bender. The first freshman class Romar brought in included Brandon Roy and (technically) Nate Robinson. Both are eight-year veterans of the NBA.
In Romar's 11 seasons as head coach, he has led UW to seven NCAA Tournaments. That is almost half of the 16 appearances by the Dawgs. Admittedly, it is easier to get in the tournament than it was for Harshman or Hec, but it is an impressive feat nonetheless. He has three Sweet Sixteens. 13 NBA players. 4 conference tournament championships. Two regular season conference championships.
Romar has hardware to be considered, along with Tippy Dye, Hec Ed, and Marv Harshman, among the top coaches in the history of Washington basketball.