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The Curious Case of Lorenzo Romar

Are you team #FIREROMAR or team #PORTER?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Right before conference play started, I had this to say about the Lorenzo Romar coaching situation:

Lorenzo Romar is the epitome of the kind of person you want representing your University off the court. Regardless of how the rest of his career shakes out, Coach Romar deserves respect for the way he truly cares for his players and the UW. That said, if UW doesn’t show marked improvement in conference play I unfortunately think it’s time for a change. However, the reality of Michael Porter and the incoming recruiting class combined with the substantial buyout required to move on from Coach Romar means he’ll be on the sidelines next year barring something like a catastrophic 11th or 12th place finish.

Well, the Huskies are currently 11th in the Pac-12 standings and that UCLA game was as close to a catastrophe as exists in college basketball. I am not usually prone to hot takes but if that game had been played on the road I don’t think it would’ve shocked anyone if Romar had been fired at the airport a la Lane Kiffin. Realistically though, the UW coaching conundrum requires a more reasoned approach. Events both within and outside of the world of sports have demonstrated that being able to respectfully disagree is a lost art form. But the UW men’s basketball coaching situation is an issue on which I believe reasonable people can easily have polar opposite stances.

The University of Washington and Lorenzo Romar are entering the mid-life crisis phase of their relationship. The spark is totally gone and they just kind of coexist day to day. Both sides know they’d probably be happier with a divorce but they’re going to try to see if they can make it last until the kids graduate high school and go to college.

And that last point isn’t just analogy because the biggest argument in favor of the two staying together are 4 kids that are 7 months away from attending their first class at the University of Washington. The 2017 recruiting class is undoubtedly the best in the history of UW. In 2015, UW had 3 ESPN top-100 recruits in Dejounte Murray (49th), Noah Dickerson (52nd), and Marquese Chriss (60th) in addition to another 4-star player in Matisse Thybulle. In 2016, Markelle Fultz (7th) joined the fold.

Basketball: Nike EYBL Finals at Peach Jam
Michael Porter Jr. is slated to be the face of the 2017 Washington Huskies
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 class is essentially those two classes put together as it has the star power at the top as well as the depth. The crown jewel is, of course, Michael Porter Jr. (1st) who is joined by a trio of talented guards in Daejon Davis (44th), Jaylen Nowell (54th), and Blake Harris (99th). Despite the majesty of Suzzallo library and the beauty of Drumheller Fountain outlined by Mount Rainier, Michael Porter is committed to Washington for one reason and one reason only: because Lorenzo Romar is his godfather and hired his dad to be on the coaching staff. Any decision to move on from coach Romar means that Porter is walking out that door as well.

Some have speculated that hiring Brandon Roy to replace Romar might keep Michael Porter Jr. committed since he currently coaches Michael at Nathan Hale. To me, that argument doesn’t make sense. Roy has one year of high school coaching experience. If you move away from Romar right now, you’re doing it because you value the long-term future more than you do the 2017 recruiting class. Hiring a coach without a solid track record to potentially keep the Porters still leaves you in a situation where you have a question mark at head coach. That move only makes sense if you have complete faith that Brandon Roy is a top-25 national head coach but there’s no evidence whatsoever to support that conclusion.

Issue number two for #FIREROMAR is the money. If Washington terminates Lorenzo Romar’s contract after this season it would be required to pay him $3.2 million. That’s a giant chunk of change for an athletic department that lost $14 million last fiscal year, and is projected to lose more money in 2017. Currently, Lorenzo Romar’s contract pays him $1.7 million annually so you’re asking the University to eat 2 years of salary and presumably give a raise to the incoming guy if you want to get a quality candidate. It seems difficult to justify. The only way that makes financial sense is if you think that bringing in the next guy will lead to nightly sellouts at Hec-Ed. Possible but not probable given that they’re losing Porter at the very least from the recruiting class with that move. If you think the new coach can flip the switch overnight it requires you to also believe that the current version of the Huskies are talented enough to compete for a Pac-12 title and only being held back by Romar’s coaching.

For comparison’s sake, here’s what some of the other top head coaches in the conference are making: Sean Miller (Arizona)- $4.5 million, Steve Alford (UCLA) - $2.6 million, Larry Krystkowiak (Utah)- $2.6 million, and Dana Altman (Oregon)- $2 million. You’ve got to offer at least $2 million to get anyone with major coaching experience to take over this team.

And the reason why UW has to pay a bit of a premium is issue #3: the quality of play. The excuses are easy to cite and have been expounded upon numerous times. In 2012, the Washington Huskies won the Pac-12 regular season. That’s considered a successful season 99 out of 100 times. Unfortunately, the selection committee decided for the 1st time ever that winning a power-5 conference wasn’t good enough and left them out in the cold (in their defense, UW had no wins over a kenpom top-30 team). Then Wroten and Ross declared early and the next several teams were led by solid but not spectacular talent with C.J Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, and freshman and sophomore versions of Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss. The 2015 squad looked destined for the tournament but then Robert Upshaw violated team rules, the defense fell off of a cliff, and UW was as close to having a fire sale at the trade deadline as a college team can have. Finally, Murray and Chriss became extreme outliers as one-and-dones from outside the top-40 of national recruits.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado
Chriss and Murray’s early departures mortally wounded the 2016 Huskies’ hopes
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

From 2005 to 2013, the UW defense never ranked outside the top-100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Since then, they’ve been 167th, 161st, 70th, and then collapsed this year to 235th. The narrative for this season was that they were so young that they would see natural improvement from learning to play together as the year went on. Instead, besides the 1st halves against Arizona and USC they’ve looked worse than ever. More than anything this seems like a team without passion or drive. Despite the isolated overtime win against Colorado they’ve folded in the face of adversity every chance they’ve gotten. UW teams in the past have had Isaiah Thomas, or Quincy Pondexter, or Andrew Andrews who simply oozed leadership. This team, without anyone in the program for longer than 2 years, doesn’t have that guy and so it has to come from Coach Romar. From all indications, he hasn’t been up to the challenge.

After all of that, it ultimately comes down to a gut feeling. Do you or do you not think that Lorenzo Romar is 100% done as a head coach? Whether the evidence is convincing depends on your pre-conceived notions. The primary things that you would look for to determine a coach’s role in team success are: leadership, play calling, and offensive and defensive structure. This UW team is 0/3 outside of some isolated success in the 2-3 zone recently. It’s reasonable to say that the fault for all three lies entirely with Coach Romar and he deserves to go. If you believe that Coach Romar is mentally checked out as a head coach then I can understand making the move now. When your coach is actively hurting the team’s chances of winning then ripping off the band-aid can’t really be a bad thing.

The other side would say though that given this team’s youth, inexperience, and lack of natural rim protection ability that even Coach K would struggle to turn this team into an above average squad. If there’s anything left in the tank at all then giving Lorenzo one more chance with the top recruit in the nation and three juniors to lead the team in Thybulle, Dickerson, and Crisp provides conclusive proof. If he can’t compete for a Pac-12 title with that team then it’s never coming back. Ultimately, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. So where do you stand?