SEATTLE >> Washington fired coach Lorenzo Romar today after 15 seasons at the school, a fate that seemed certain once the Huskies failed to receive an NCAA Tournament bid for the sixth straight year despite a steady stream of talent.
Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen made the decision after the Huskies slogged through another lackluster season — even with freshman star Markelle Fultz, a projected top-five NBA draft pick.
“After evaluating our men’s basketball program, I have determined that a change in leadership is necessary,” Cohen said in a statement. “Today is particularly difficult because coach Romar is such a beloved member of our university community. I want to thank Lorenzo and his family for 15 years of dedicated service and sacrifice to our university.”
Romar was 298-196 in his 15 seasons with the Huskies and was responsible for reinvigorating a downtrodden program, 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 went 9-22 this season, the worst of Romar’s tenure, and was 2-16 in conference play.
Washington closed the season on a school-record 13-game losing streak, capped by a loss to Southern California in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Huskies were led by the dynamic Fultz, but Romar could never get the rest of Washington’s roster to match the guard’s productivity.
It was 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.
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.
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.”
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 gained the unwanted notoriety of being the first Pac-12 regular-season champion to miss the NCAA Tournament in 2012. The 2014-15 season appeared to be Romar’s low point, having to dismiss center Robert Upshaw at midseason for violating team rules then seeing all-Pac-12 guard Nigel Williams-Goss transfer to Gonzaga after a 16-15 season.
Last year, Washington’s roster featured seven freshman teamed with senior Andrew Andrews and the Huskies missed the NCAAs by a couple of games. The hope was either Dejounte Murray or Marquese Chriss would return for their sophomore season to play with Fultz, but when both became first-round NBA picks the Huskies were left without a second star this season.
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.