by: Griffin Bennett
It’s a chant that happens after every loss: “Fire Romar!”. It’s posted all over the internet and the radio without fail. The message board threads grow with vitriolic rants and questionable statistics that only continue to enrage the masses. In the words of Michael Caine as Alfred from The Dark Knight, “some people just want to watch the world burn”.
I know that these “Fire Romar” fans are just a vocal minority and most likely, as @ymmij2k put it on twitter, “99.9% of the people who want Romar fired have never received a degree from any branch of the University of Washington”. I want to finally put this argument to bed and be done with it. All of these people sound like spoiled fans who want instant gratification from a program that has historically been a bottom feeder. It’s a straight case of the Disease of More. The more you get, the more you want. It’s time for the break down.
The Pre-Romar Era:
Ah, the glory days of the Washington basketball program. Where, since the Pac-8 was founded in 1968, the Huskies had won only two regular season titles and earned only 6 NCAA Tournament bids. That’s an entire 34 year history that consisted of 5 coaches and only Marv Harshman made any sort of memorable impact. Harshman finished his Husky career with a 488-195 overall record (71%) and won both of the Pac-10 titles mentioned and all but one of the NCAA tourney bids while earning only one Pac-10 Coach of the Year title in 1982. Then comes the dynamic duo of Andy Russo and Lynn Nance who went a combined 111-124 (47%) over 8 years and each flamed out magnificently. In comes Big Bob Bender in 1993 who went 116-142 (45%) for 10 years and had one good year in 1998 where they went on a Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen. He also won a Pac-10 Coach of the Year title in 1996. That’s about it.
If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 2 for 34 on titles of any kind, 6 for 34 on tournament births, two Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors, and a 473-412 record (53%). Keep in mind, most of those numbers belong to Mr. Harshman who left in 1985.
Let me briefly mention the Hec Edmundson and Tippy Dye years, as those were some very successful teams but that was before the 60’s and the modern era of basketball. A lot has changed since then and it’s really not even worth comparing the time periods.
The Romar Era:
I’m sure we can all rattle off the stats by now, but here’s a little refresher. Coach Lorenzo Romar has coached for nine years and has made the NCAA tournament in six of those nine. He has one Pac-10 regular season title as well as three Pac-10 Tournament titles. Add a couple Pac-10 Coach of the Year awards and a 195-102 record (66%) and you have one of the greatest 9 year stretches in Husky history.
The reason I’m giving a little history lesson is that I want people to understand that UW hasn’t been a basketball powerhouse since the mid-50’s. It’s not as if UW has the history of a school like North Carolina who can go out and convince a Roy Williams-esque coach to leave another big time school like Kansas. The lack of basketball history aside, Romar is getting paid somewhere around $1.2 million a year which should be considered a bargain for his success. According to this article, big time coaches get paid big time dollars and UW does not have the basketball boosters that would be willing to shell out that much. Butler’s Brad Stevens and Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl are names that people throw out but both would require a salary north of $2 million due to their demand. Not only does that mean that UW would probably be out of the running, but it also makes Romar a steal at his salary. Sure, you could gamble on an up-and-coming coach who is the flavor of the month, but you aren’t guaranteed anything there. I’m a fool for sports betting, but I would never take those odds.
Where would you rank Coach Romar as a coach nationally? Is he a top 10 coach? Probably not. Is he a top 25 coach? I could easily make the argument. Without listing 100 coaches and writing down my criteria for a good coach, let’s just assume he is a top 25 coach. How many better coaches than Romar could UW get to replace him? My guess would be none. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at how some of the best coaches from around the country have done in their first 9 or fewer years at a big school and see how Romar measures up.
I think that the most interesting comparison is Coach K and Coach Romar. They each were hired to reinvigorate a program that had been successful 20 years prior. Coach K is one of the greatest coaches of all time and I’m not putting Romar on that level, but the point is that dynasties take time to build, especially at schools with little history of prior success.
Coaches like Dixon, Wright, and Donovan are looked at as recent success stories from teams that gambled on a young coach with upside. They are the ceiling for taking that type of gamble and their numbers are not drastically better than Romar’s. The upside on that risk just isn’t worth taking.
We can all agree that Lorenzo Romar is a 100% class act. I have never heard a single bad thing spoken about the man and that in itself holds a certain amount of value to a team. Tennessee was willing to get rid of Pearl due to his recruiting violations and the next team that hires him will have to take a risk that he might do that again (see: Calipari, John). I might be naïve in thinking that a clean coach is the best coach, but I don’t want my coach getting his hand caught in the cookie jar and end up worse than before.
I’ve been using words like gamble and risk to asses the strategy in firing Romar and hiring another candidate, but the bottom line is that I think Romar is the right guy to take this team to the next level. With each passing year Husky basketball gets more and more popular and soon enough the recruits don’t even remember when UW program was bad. He’s already 9 years in and most kids don’t remember much before 5 so that means all of the 14 year olds around the country know UW as a great basketball school. Sweet, now I feel old.
Getting to a top 8-16 team is exponentially harder than getting where Romar is now, which is a top 16-32 team. It’s battling for that extra recruit or having that extra bit experience (combined with a little bit of luck) that makes that difference. Romar was right there with Terrence Jones, Derrick Williams, and Angelo Chol and soon they will be falling his way.
I know that we will never hear the last of the “Fire Romar” people but I hope they will someday realize how lucky we all are to have Coach Romar at UW. Hopefully I can read this post in 20 years and laugh at the thought of even writing this. Bow Down.