SEATTLE (AP) - Lorenzo Romar was a beloved figure at Washington, from building the Huskies into a conference champion, to the way he carried himself off the court as a representative of the school.
No amount of goodwill built by Romar over more than a decade could overcome six straight seasons of missing the NCAA Tournament, capped by a 9-22 season and a school-record 13-game losing streak.
The expected final chapter of Romar’s tenure took place on Wednesday when he was fired after 15 seasons at Washington. He reinvigorated a downtrodden school, turning Washington into a contender and did it with class and respectability.
Yet the final determination always goes back to success and Romar did not have enough over the past half-dozen seasons despite a steady stream of talent.
“I think what I was looking for this year was a trajectory that was maybe trending up and a little bit more improvement than what I saw,” Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen said.
“Ultimately I just weighed a lot of different factors and then decided that it just made sense to me, and I feel very confident about this that a leadership change was necessary for us to build the culture that is the championship culture that we’re looking for.”
Romar was 298-196 in his 15 seasons with the Huskies and was responsible for taking Washington to six NCAA Tournaments and three appearances in the Sweet 16. But Romar’s shortcoming was never getting Washington to a Final Four despite a glut of talented players.
Washington’s record this season, including going 2-16 in conference play, was the worst of Romar’s tenure and played out even with expected top-five pick Markelle Fultz leading the team. But Romar could never get the rest of Washington’s roster to match the guard’s productivity.
It was a continuation of a trend that hounded Romar’s tenure at Washington. He was able to recruit star players, but was never able to fully capitalize on the talent he amassed.
“It was kind of the overall comprehensive feel that I had,” Cohen said. “Total gut feeling, by the way. In these situations, you get as much situation as you can and then you pull the trigger on what you think is best.”
Assistant coach Will Conroy - a former player for Romar at the beginning of his Washington tenure - will remain as the “point person” until a new coach is hired.
Romar deserves credit for making Washington into a basketball school, especially early in his tenure at the school.
His downfall was the inability to sustain the standard he created. Romar took the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2004, was a No. 1 seed in 2005 and reached the Sweet 16 in 2006 before losing a heartbreaker to Connecticut in overtime. Washington also reached the regional semifinals in 2010, but could never advance further.
Along the way, Romar won two outright Pac-12 regular-season titles - snapping a 56-year drought - and three Pac-12 Tournament titles. But his career with the Huskies will be viewed through a mixed prism of creating a winner in Seattle and then seeing what he built fall off into mediocrity.
Romar’s missteps included a number of recruiting misses in recent years, either with stars that left for the NBA earlier than expected or complementary players that never developed into being the three- and four-year players needed to stabilize a program.
Washington owes Romar $3.2 million as part of his contract that ran through the 2019-20 season.
“I was really looking forward to coaching our team next year and beyond. However, God had a different plan,” Romar said. “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 played a part in that success. I will always support the University of Washington, and pull for the Huskies.”
By firing Romar, Washington is also putting at risk losing one of the finest recruiting classes in school history, highlighted by Michael Porter Jr., regarded as one of the top high school seniors in the country, and the son of Washington assistant coach Michael Porter Sr.
Along with Porter, Washington has signed guards Jaylen Nowell, Daejon Davis and Blake Harris, all ranked among the Top 100 high school seniors.
Now their commitment to Washington is in question. Depending on how many players the Huskies lose, Washington is looking at a significant rebuild to get back among the elite on the West Coast.
Porter and Harris both tweeted disappointment about Romar being fired and Cohen said the players would be released from their letters of intent if they decided not to stay after meeting with the new coaching staff.
After being told of his dismissal, current players sought out Romar on the court at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
“Lorenzo handled the situation in typical Lorenzo fashion, with absolute first-class and dignity,” Cohen said.
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