Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Washington Huskies Fired Lorenzo Romar

It’s kind of a bummer.  I dunno.  There are a lot of mixed feelings right now, it’s hard to put them down in a coherent thought.

He’s been here since 2002!  That’s such a long time.  So much has happened since then.  In many ways, with the NBA leaving, the one constant as far as Seattle basketball is concerned has been Lorenzo Romar.  He’s been sort of the face of the 206’s hoops scene.  With Romar, it’s always felt like we’ve had this awesome basketball community.  So many Huskies playing in the NBA, but they all felt like local guys with Romar here.  Now, he’s gone, and it feels like that community is shattered.

Growing up, the Husky basketball team wasn’t even REMOTELY on my radar.  Not with the Sonics in town, kicking ass and taking names.  I briefly got excited for a couple of those Bob Bender teams when I was in high school and they made that run to the Sweet 16.  But, it wasn’t until Romar took over and Nate Rob & Co. came to Washington when I really become a fan.

Under Romar, the Washington Huskies have had an unprecedented run of success.  Six NCAA Tournament appearances; no other Husky head coach has had more than three. Five top 2 conference finishes, tops in school history since we’ve been in the Pac-8/10/12.  298 wins (including NCAA Tourney games), second most in school history behind Hec Ed.  All of this in a period in college basketball that has changed so much during his tenure.  It’s going to take a HUGE name to fill his shoes.

This stinks.  Not just because we’re almost certainly going to lose out on next year’s incoming Freshman class.  But, you know, that’s part of it.  I think the 2017/2018 Huskies could’ve been really special.  I think we were poised to return to the NCAA Tournament and maybe even barge our way into a Sweet 16 spot.  It could’ve saved Romar’s job, put the Huskies back on the map, and kickstarted a run of great Husky basketball teams.  Now, we have to start over from scratch.

What’s worse, it’s very possible we lose what little holdover talent we’ve got on THIS team.  Granted, there wasn’t much to be excited about – particularly with Fultz going to the NBA – but players like Crisp and Dickerson are poised to take a big step forward as Juniors, and who knows if they’re going to want to stick around?

Next year’s Husky basketball team could be rock bottom.  I mean, legendary, all-time awful.

So, that’s the short term.  Long term, of course, is the big unknown.  Since the University of Washington is willing to throw around $3 million to buy out Romar, it would seem like money is no object when it comes to the next guy.  And, you know, it’s not like this decision was made with a hair trigger.  I think UW has been more than fair, and has given Romar as long a leash as could reasonably be expected.  But, when you’ve been in steady decline like the Huskies have over the last 6 seasons, with some of the NBA talent Romar has had, with rising expectations what they are after you make 6 NCAA Tournament appearances in 8 seasons, it’s only natural to want to go in another direction with your program.  15 seasons is a long time to coach at one place, particularly when you’ve never gone past the Sweet 16.  So, I would hardly think this decision should scare away any prospective head coaching targets.

Now, obviously, the trick is finding someone who wants to come here.  Try to avoid listening to the Husky homers around here and think on a more national level:  the University of Washington is not a powerhouse draw for college basketball.  It’s a step up from the mid-majors, but it’s probably not a big-enough step up for a really successful mid-major head coach.  So, you know, probably best to get Mark Few’s name out of your head.  Or that Wichita State guy.  While it’s entirely possible that UW could over-pay to bring someone in here, I think we have to be reasonable with our expectations on just how much the university is prepared to shell out.  Let’s not forget, Chris Petersen and some of his assistant coaches are looking at big raises and he already made over $3 million last year.  I hardly think the UW basketball program is flush with enough cash to pay football-coach money.

The upside is, regardless of who we bring in, he’s likely to be an all-around better head coach than what Romar has been in recent seasons.  Romar has recruited well, particularly at guard, in getting some of these recent one-and-done guys (including next year’s class that will be transferring in short order), but his coaching has left a lot to be desired.  There’s no real offense to speak of.  He’s all but abandoned his old defensive identity in favor of letting his stars do whatever the fuck they want.  The team has been relatively competitive on athletic ability alone, but that’s meant that we haven’t beaten a quality basketball team in years.  We find ways to lose, or we get run out of the gym, by smarter, more technically-sound teams.  And in 2016/2017, we weren’t even competitive, so what good has all that recruiting ability been?

So, here we are.  The great unknown.  It’ll be an interesting next few weeks to see what the Washington Husky basketball program looks like, but for now I think it’s appropriate to reflect on the end of an era.  Lorenzo Romar has meant so much to the University of Washington and the city of Seattle when it comes to local basketball.  While I understand why it happened, I hate to see it end like this.

Will There Ever Be Another UW Alumni Basketball Game?

The lone common thread holding the proceedings together on Sunday was coach Lorenzo Romar.  Without him, none of that would have been possible.

Romar has helmed the greatest sustained run of Husky basketball since the 70s & early 80s with coach Marv Harshman.  Before that, you have to go back to the 50s with coach Tippy Dye.  Before that, we’re talking good ol’ Hec Edmundson in the 20s through 40s:  the dawn of Husky basketball.  There haven’t been many truly great Husky basketball coaches over the decades, but coach Romar certainly deserves to be in that discussion.

Nevertheless, he’s on the hot seat, entering his 12th season with the Huskies.  Romar – featuring the bulk of the pre-2009 squad in Sunday’s game – led the Huskies to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2004-2006.  Then, featuring the bulk of the post-2009 squad in Sunday’s game, Romar led the Huskies to three more NCAA Tournament appearances.  However, since then, we’ve had back-to-back NIT appearances, with last year ending in the first round.  Too many Husky fans see the program trending in the wrong direction, when in reality we’re just in a bit of a dry spell.  Ebbs and flows.  Ups and downs.  These things happen in college basketball.  You’re not going to be at the top of the heap every single year.  But, it’s how long it takes you to bounce back that defines the career of the college head coach.

In watching that game on Sunday, I was overcome with the elation of witnessing all those great players in one room.  There are other universities out there with more established basketball programs.  Other universities with tons of NBA players to their credit.  But, how many of those schools could’ve put on the type of show the University of Washington put on this weekend?  How many of those schools could have recruited ALL of their best players to come back on a Sunday in the middle of June to play in a for-fun basketball game?  There are some amazing head coaches throughout college basketball, but how many of them have the kind of pull that coach Romar has with his players?

I’ve been campaigning pretty hard over the last year or so on the Keep Lorenzo Romar ticket.  I think it would be foolish at this time to get rid of one of your best-ever head coaches, and not just because I think the neat Husky All Star Game was neat.  I still believe in Romar’s abilities to coach and recruit.  I believe in his abilities to turn this program back around and get it going in the right direction again.  I believe Romar is the best man for THIS job.

The more I think about the Husky basketball program, though, the more I feel we all need to re-think our priorities.  Let’s face it:  we are NEVER going to be a national power in men’s basketball.  Hell, we’ve already got a national power in our own state with the Gonzaga Bulldogs!  There is only so much talent to go around, and that’s not even taking into consideration the fucking Louisville Cardinals (and others) poaching all of our best players.  So, we should stop trying to look at this situation like it’s something we can control with a simple change in coaches.

First of all, if you lose Romar, you lose your direct connection to all of those great players we saw on Sunday.  That’s not bad just because we wouldn’t have any more Alumni Games, but it’s bad for recruiting.  You want to show that you have a solid base.  You want the support of your best alumni when you’re going out to recruit future (hopeful) alumni!  It essentially puts you back to square one, and you have to hope that the new head coach is able to re-build all those relationships with all those Romar greats.

The thing I’ve been saying all along about this issue is:  don’t change for the sake of change.  If you’re going to bring in someone to replace Romar, make sure he has a pedigree of building championship programs!  Which, when you think about it:  why would any of those guys choose to come to Washington?  There are tons of other schools with tons of money.  There’s no amount of money the University of Washington could toss out there that couldn’t be matched by a bigger basketball institution, if this hypothetical head coach is really worth his weight in gold.

I would argue it’s more prudent to stick with the program we have in place.  Let Romar continue building on the foundation he’s already constructed.  If we’re going to break through anytime soon, it’s going to be on the shoulders of Romar.  Otherwise, be prepared for another LONG wait as we break in a new program.

The fact of the matter is:  we shouldn’t have our eyes on national championships.  We should set our sights on Pac-12 championships.  Something more tangible.  Something that’s still somewhat difficult, but something that we can also attain more than once a century.  Let’s face it!  It’s getting tougher and tougher to break through in this college basketball landscape.  It would save a lot of heartache if we can just be happy thinking on a smaller scale. 

This isn’t like professional sports.  I’m always railing against Seattle fans who are just happy making the playoffs.  I want championships out of my pro sports teams!  I don’t want to settle for anything less.  But, in college, these things are fundamentally out of whack.  There’s no such thing as parity in college sports.  Not as long as the super conferences house their powerhouse universities.  The same dozen-or-so teams are going to compete for the basketball national championship every year.  That’s just the way it is.  You need something truly special to be a Cinderella in this day and age.  Why do you think the country constantly loses its shit whenever we see one in the Tourney?

The Washington Huskies can hope to be nothing better than a particular season’s Cinderella.  That’s best-case scenario, forever and ever.  We’re never going to be that Goliath school terrorizing everyone around us.  Therefore, I contend that Romar should NOT be on the hot seat.  Because he’s proven that he’s more than capable of winning in this conference.  Winning this conference and making the NCAA Tourney:  THAT should be our goal going forward.  Getting into the Sweet 16 should be OUR national championship.  Going even further is some impossible, beautiful dream that we should be so lucky to achieve but once a lifetime.  We’re not those other schools.  We’re not Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky.  Hell, we’re not even Ohio State or Texas or Arizona.  We’re less than, and sometimes that’s okay.  We can still generate entertaining seasons.  We can still produce NBA-quality players.  And we can still be proud of Romar and the job he has done, both on the court and off, with these young men.

Let the man do his thing.  If anyone is going to get us back to winning conference titles and to making the NCAA Tournament, it’s Lorenzo Romar.

The Lorenzo Romar Debate Rages On

As this season progresses, the discontent with the Husky basketball program is only going to intensify.  That’s the way it is.  Husky fans have grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  Hell, the Husky PROGRAM has grown accustomed to a certain level of success.  So, losing all these games (to sub-standard programs both in and non-conference), as well as losing all these games in a ROW (after a 4-game winning streak to start conference play), has to be eating away at the psyche of both the players, the coaching staff, the Athletic Department, and the fans at large.

I get it.  Everyone’s pissed off.  Or, at the very least, mildly annoyed.  We’re all ticked because the team is not living up to their regular level of success, and THAT’S making us even angrier because we feel even THAT level of success isn’t good enough.  It’s not enough just to live up to what we’ve seen from other Romar-led Husky teams, it’s a point of contention that:  why can’t we be even BETTER?

The biggest monkey on Lorenzo Romar’s back is:  not getting past the Sweet 16.  For that, I have no defense for the man.  In the Nate Rob/B-Roy years, we had some electric teams.  That 2004/2005 season where we had a #1 seed in the Tourney is particularly galling, because of its rarity around these parts to have a 1-seed college basketball team, and because of the way we ended up losing (in the Sweet 16 round, to the 4-seed Louisville Cardinals).

I’m not here to blindly defend the man willy-nilly, in spite of some of my posts on the subject.  But, I’m also not going to sit around and go along with the crowd who wants to run the guy out of town after one bad season in the last five years.

Someone ran across my last post on the subject and wrote a thoughtful retort; I would recommend reading it even though he takes me to task for some of my sloppier assertions.  Since this is such a dead period in local sports, I’ve opted to reserve my response to his response for a brand new post (content generation, ho!).

I’ll start with this, apropos of nothing:  I don’t think Lorenzo Romar is the perfect coach.  I don’t think he’s the best coach in college basketball.  I think there are plenty of things you could question about the man’s in-game decision-making.  For instance:  why was Desmond Simmons riding so much pine last night, especially at the end of the game, and especially when he’s your best overall defender (who can cover guys inside and on the perimeter)?  Why risk letting Aziz get hacked and put at the line (where he missed two crucial late free throws), or God forbid jacking up a desperation 3-point ball from the corner on an inbound play?

I would also question his preference to have senior guards constantly taking the final shots in games over more-talented younger guys.  How many times did we see Game Overton blasting through the lane, throwing up some wild and crazy shot when it would’ve been more appropriate for someone like I.T. (only a junior) to have the rock with the clock ticking down.  Yes, we all remember COLD BLOODED against Arizona, but really give that season some thought and harken back.  The same goes for Abdul Gaddy this year; Romar needs to have him cede immediately to the younger and more vital Andrews and let him show what he can do.

There are countless other examples of things you COULD question, but for the most part you can see the logic.  Here’s the thing:  I understand being loyal to your upperclassmen.  But, if you’re going to be a top-notch program, you’re going to have to deal with the certainty that you’ll have one-and-done players.  Those players are one-and-done for a reason:  they’re the best of the best (usually).  Put the ball in THEIR hands, if you’re so fortunate to have them, when the game is on the line.

Abdul Gaddy is a real point of contention.  A point made by the aforementioned commenter:  “… I don’t know if Romar is at fault for the poor development of Gaddy and Suggs, but it’s frustrating no less.”

It’s a good point.  We DON’T know who’s at fault for Gaddy not living up to his billing.  I’ll leave Suggs alone, because I think Suggs is what he is, damn his rating coming out of high school.  He’s a spot-up long-range shooter and that’s all he ever was going to be.  Which is fine, if you’ve got the proper guards at point who will drive the lane, draw in defenders, and kick out.  Scott Suggs should be NOBODY’S primary or secondary offensive option (unless he’s playing for some lesser, Sun Belt-ish conference).  But, on a well-balanced team, he wouldn’t be a bad fourth or fifth option, preferably off the bench.

Gaddy, however, is a completely different ball of wax.  I said it last night (when he biffed that alley-oop pass at the end of the game) and I’ll say it again:  Abdul Gaddy is quickly becoming my least-favorite Husky.  He was supposed to be great.  He was our big catch of the 2009 Freshman class.  We may never know what would’ve been had he not injured his ACL at such a critical period of his development in his Sophomore year, but from what we’ve seen since his return, even if he could’ve gotten that medical redshirt, it’s unlikely he’d be any better next year than what he is right now.  Which is a semi-dependable ball-handler who makes WAY too many mistakes with the ball for a guy in his Senior season.  A guy who has never had even a remotely decent jump shot.  A guy who’s an average defender at best (but who will frequently be beaten by shorter, quicker guards).  And a guy who has little-to-no ability to penetrate a defense and finish at the rim.

So, who’s to blame?  Was it Romar not coaching him up, taking his high school talent for granted?  Was it all those sites who rank prep athletes for dropping the ball?  Let’s face it, we had a pretty good idea pretty early on that Gaddy would be a likely 4-year player in college.  With Gaddy supposedly being in the top-2 of incoming point guards that year nationally, you’d think at the most he would’ve been here 1-2 seasons, had he reached the potential everyone thought he’d reach.  Even if those sites DID drop the ball, if you’re Lorenzo Romar, you have to be BETTER than those sites.  As a talent evaluator, you have to know what you’re getting into with a major recruit.

But, there’s the other side of the argument, which is:  did Abdul Gaddy do enough work on his own to better his game?  Did he practice his shot enough?  Did he keep himself in good enough shape?  Did he work out with other players to better his dribble-penetration game?  Or, is he just lazy and thought he could coast on talent alone through his college career, with no real ambition to go on to the next level aside from a hazy, far-off dream?

Or, did he just not have it to begin with, and everyone fucked up, from the scouts to Romar to Gaddy himself?  I’m apt to believe this over anything else.  He could’ve been the Michael Jordan of practicing, working on his game, and having a relentless drive to be the best, but if he just didn’t have the talent to succeed and grow as a player, then it’s pointless trying to spread the blame around.

But, to say that Romar doesn’t get the best out of his players – which the above-referenced commenter, Taylor, noted – means you simply haven’t been watching his teams very closely.  I’m not interested as much in how guys rate coming out of high school.  There are plenty of blue-chippers who go on to fail.  But, I get it, the more blue-chippers you bring in, the better your odds are of having some dominating teams.  I’m more concerned with how guys look in Year 1 vs. how guys look in Years 3 and 4.

Look at Jon Brockman, as one example.  He didn’t come out of the womb an All-Conference player.  In his first season, he averaged 8.4 (points) and 6.5 (rebounds).  But, he consistently worked on refining his game to where he averaged 18/12 as a Junior before giving way to I.T. in his senior season.  Look at a guy like MBA, who averaged 4 and 3 in his first year.  By his senior season, he was up to 15/8!  How about Q-Pon?  From what I remember (and I could be wrong), he was fairly highly rated coming out of high school.  Remember what he was like early in his college career?  VERY inconsistent.  We kept waiting for his breakout that seemingly would never come.  In his first season, he averaged 11 and 4.  By his last year, he was up to 19 and 8 and led this team to an impromptu Sweet 16 run.

I could go on, but let’s just call it what it is:  Romar has coached up his share of guys.

The big theory in college athletics goes like this:  as a new coach, you do your best to bring in as many good players as possible.  You coach them up, you find some modicum of success in the post-season, and that begets even better recruits, which begets more winning, and so on and so forth.  Taylor’s main point, from what I gather, is that Romar has reached a wall, or a plateau of sorts.  He makes a very good point in his section about the other top-tier schools I listed.  I’m going to save myself the time and take his word for it:  those other coaches had more success, and quicker than Romar’s first 11 years with the Dawgs.  In a lot of cases, those coaches took nothing programs, caught lightning in a bottle, and went on to monster success.

So location has nothing to do with it.  I don’t know if I lamented our location as much (I don’t feel like re-reading my whole previous post to find out), but if I did then I was pretty erroneous on that mark.  However, I will say this:  just because it’s taken Romar 11 years to get where we’ve gotten (which isn’t all that impressive, in the grand scheme of things) doesn’t mean this is as good as it gets and it’s only downhill from here.  He’s a fairly young guy, and if you hear the man speak in person, you can tell he has a good rapport with the younger generation, so if he was given a free pass to coach here as long as he desired, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to turn this program into a national power.  Really, it just takes one class, one team, to catch that lightning in a bottle.  Generate a surprise Final Four run and before you know it, those blue-chippers we keep losing to Kentucky and Louisville and Arizona and UCLA are now coming here.

Which is why I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand his ability to recruit and build NBA players.  Some guys, like Ross and Wroten, and Roy and Nate-Rob and Hawes, were going to be NBA draft picks regardless.  But, Q-Pon was no guarantee.  Brockman was CERTAINLY no guarantee (an under-sized power forward or a slow small forward, depending on where you think he fits on an NBA team).  I.T.  was another sub-6 foot point guard who ended up being the last pick in the draft.  Yet, he was showcased by Romar on some quality (though not elite) Husky basketball teams, and he made it.  Bringing in blue chippers who leave early is just as important as building NBA-calibre players out of nothing, like he did with the likes of Brockman.  Because it sets an example that you don’t HAVE to go to those other elite schools to get noticed.  You can come here, play for a program everyone respects, and still find success as a pro.

But, I’ll walk this argument back:  Romar hasn’t caught that lightning in a bottle.  His best teams have been disappointments in that regard; they haven’t gone very far in the Tourney.  And his other Tourney teams have lost too quickly to generate much of anything in the way of national buzz.  So, we’re NOT on the level of an Arizona or a UCLA.  We’re in that meaty 2nd tear of the Pac-12, with Cal and Stanford and now, I guess, Oregon (God, just seriously fuck Oregon already!).

So, I get the frustration, I really do.  And Taylor’s point about Romar’s lack of success in non-conference games (especially on the road in non-conference games) is valid.  On the one hand, I’m sitting here telling you that Romar gets the best of his players, that often his players improve from season to season (and during individual seasons, when they’re playing much better towards the end than they are in the beginning), but on the other hand, why can’t Romar have them ready from the beginning?  Why do the Huskies constantly underachieve in their non-conference games?

What’s worse:  the non-conference schedule has only gotten EASIER since Romar’s early days as a Husky coach.  I don’t have an answer for that either.

But, I trust the man’s judgment.  If he feels his teams aren’t ready for elite competition in the first month of the season, then that probably means they aren’t ready for elite competition.  What do I read every year?  Romar’s defense is difficult for guys to learn.  It takes some of them a while to figure it out, which ultimately costs them playing time early in their careers.  I’ll counter Taylor’s point about Terrence Ross:  he WASN’T good as a Freshman until very late in the season.  If he was, he would’ve played a lot from the first game.  Instead, he got very sporadic minutes until he finally figured it all out come conference tournament time.  He certainly didn’t get the kind of minutes that Wroten got as a Freshman, but that’s another story.

What I think Romar gets the least credit for is how he turned this program around.  Taylor felt like belittling me on this point.  Yes, the Huskies are in the Top 15 all time for most college basketball wins.  That’s quite impressive.  They have well over 1,600 wins, which, I mean WOW, right?  Except, the Huskies have been around for 110 fucking years!  They’re tied for the 14th-longest running basketball program in the nation; of COURSE they’re going to have a lot of wins!  Truth be told, though, the Huskies – in those 110 seasons, have exactly 20 conference titles (hardly a “substantial amount”).  A whopping 12 of those were won by teams coached by Hec Edmundson; you know, the guy they named the arena after.  Yeah, Hec Ed had some GREAT teams in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.  Maybe I’ll go back to college, become a history major, and read all about it.

You know who doesn’t give two shits about how good the teams were in the pre-Korean War days?  Everyone born after the Korean War!

Throw your historical winning percentage around all you want.  Keep telling everyone how the Washington Huskies have the winningest home arena in college basketball.  No one gives a shit.  In the 49 seasons before Lorenzo Romar became the Huskies’ head coach, the Huskies won exactly 2 regular season conference championships.  Or, you know, the same number Romar has won in his 11 seasons.  I’m not necessarily saying 2 conference championships is acceptable, but don’t tell me that he was inheriting some program of ANY historical significance.  It’s only significant to Husky alums as a way to talk trash to our Pac-12 brethren.

I’ll close with Taylor’s closing point.  Romar has, indeed, lost a lot of confidence in Husky fans.  To have two first round draft picks last year and only manage to make it to the N.I.T. Final Four is kind of a travesty.  But, the year before that he led a VERY young team into the second round of the Tourney, and the year before that we were in the Sweet 16 with a team that essentially only had two scorers!

I ask again:  is a guy not allowed to have a down year?  I disagree with Taylor’s argument that the Huskies are destined to be terrible again next year.  First of all, with Gaddy leaving, we’re talking about addition by subtraction.  I think any game now, we’re going to find out that Andrew Andrews is something special and a solid foundation piece in the seasons to come.  I agree wholeheartedly with Taylor’s point about rather winning a national championship with 15 guys who never set foot in the NBA over having a bunch of lottery picks and losing in the first round, but that’s neither here nor there.  When do you EVER see that?  Inevitably, with college basketball, you need a good mix and some luck.  You need a couple blue chippers, but you also need those four-year veterans who know the system, who lead by example, and who can chip in as complementary players on both ends of the court.

This year, we kind of got caught with our pants down.  We’re very young AND we’re lacking in any blue chippers (unless you count Gaddy, but I don’t with the way he’s played his whole career).  Our veteran presence – Suggs, Aziz, Gaddy, and Wilcox as a Junior – isn’t enough, because they’re not talented enough to carry the mail.  But, they’re forced to carry the mail, and that’s why you see games like we had last night.  We can contend with some of the best Pac-12 teams, but ultimately we’re going to come short this season because the talent just isn’t there.

But, that doesn’t mean we won’t have the talent NEXT year.  Darin Johnson and Nigel Williams-Goss look like a one-two punch at guard to be reckoned with.  I don’t know if both will play next season, but you’re talking about 3-4 star players.  If we DO somehow land Aaron Gordon (which, I don’t think we should get our hopes up too high on that end, but what a coup that would be!), then the sky is the limit for the 2013/2014 season (especially if we’re fortunate enough to have Wilcox stay for his senior season, where he isn’t necessarily the ONLY offensive option and doesn’t constantly draw the other team’s best defender all game long).

Truth be told, even if we don’t get Gordon, all hope isn’t lost.  There have to be players in the JC ranks out there for Romar to poach.  I think he would be well-served to tap into that well again.  We keep getting our panties in a bunch over these 4-star high school guys, but there are effective JC transfers out there just WAITING for the chance to shine for a program desperately seeking a big man or two.

I’ll actually finish (seriously this time) by 100% agreeing with Taylor’s closing statements.  Yes, if attendance keeps falling, Romar probably won’t stand a chance.  It’s a shame, but that’s the reality in today’s major college sports.  I would hope that Romar has at least earned one more season on top of this one, regardless of how far attendance numbers plummet.  If we get these new recruits for next season and the team STILL struggles to find its way, then I might just be there with everyone else, leading the charge to run the guy out of town.

But, I don’t think this is a Tyrone Willingham situation.  I don’t think we’d be doing more harm than good to give the guy at least one more season.  Honestly, I think we’d be well-served to give Romar at least the next TWO seasons.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because you haven’t made a Final Four in your first decade, that means you’re destined to never be elite.  I won’t do the research at this time, but there HAVE to be late bloomers out there, who might’ve struggled or been middling in their first decade as a major-conference head coach, only to turn it on later in their careers.  I just don’t see why Romar can’t be one of them.

Taylor and I agree on one final point as well:  it would be foolish to make a change just to make a change.  The University of Washington has a ton of money.  If you absolutely HAVE to pull the trigger, don’t go out and hire the next Paul Wulff (or whoever the basketball-equivalent would be).  Go out there and make a big fucking splash!  Bring in one of the big dogs, give him free reign over the program, and get the fuck out of his way!