The Huskies finished their 2014/2015 season with a 16-15 record, 5-14 in conference play (including the Pac-12 Tourney). Yep, after starting the season 11-0 in non-conference play (including impressive wins over Oklahoma and San Diego State), the Huskies finished the season losing 15 of their last 20 games (many times in brutal fashion).
A lot went wrong this year, no doubt about it. Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team. Jernard Jarreau missed a bunch of games with injury. Shawn Kemp Jr. missed a few games towards the end with injury. NWG even had to miss a game, as well as a couple of minor role players. It hasn’t been pretty. We’ve been forced to play guys who have no business being on the same court as other major conference schools.
Naturally, though, our lack of success falls on the head coach, Lorenzo Romar. It has to, we’re talking about four consecutive years without making the NCAA Tournament. There’s too much talent out there to be this bad for this long. At the same time, it’s not like the Pac-12 has been this huge powerhouse in the last four years. It shouldn’t be THAT hard to be one of the best three teams in this conference.
You could say the team has been snakebitten by injuries in recent years, but if we’re putting all of our eggs in the Jernard Jarreau basket, then really, how good were our chances to begin with? This year looked to be different, but you can see how the lack of depth is killing us. As soon as we lost Upshaw, we immediately became the worst team in the conference. We were able to cobble together a fairly strong starting five this year (I include Upshaw in that statement, even though he was relegated to being the 6th man; he still played starter’s minutes), but we had absolutely nothing going on with our bench.
The problem with Romar, as far as I can tell, is that while he’s a good recruiter, and a good leader, and a fine, upstanding role model; his gameday decision-making is a little suspect. I’m not going to sit here and say the man doesn’t know what he’s doing – I think he did the best with what he had, as the roster fell apart around him – but you can’t help coming away from these games wondering what the plan was, or if there even WAS a plan. His teams in recent years haven’t excelled at anything. The defense has been routinely suspect; he seems to have given up on his old, tenacious style of swarming defense (either because he can’t find the right people to run it, or because it’s impossible to bring in quality basketball players on a foundation of defense, because all anyone ever wants to do is show off how well they can score). The offense doesn’t appear to ever know what it wants to do. Are we a running team? Are we a half-court team? Are we a high-post team? Are we whatever the hell we were before we started running this high-post?
I would say, beyond the simple gameday stuff, the real menace has been in who he has recruited to come here, and his player development. These are two aspects of Romar’s job description that tend to receive the most praise. While he has nearly always struggled to recruit quality big men to UW, we’ve always had a quality guard or two. I mean, just look at the track record of success of getting guys into the NBA; he’s not over here puttering on the fringes. He’s bringing in bigtime talent and pushing them through to the show!
And, while that’s great for the star players, and it’s great for Romar’s reputation as a recruiter, it hasn’t translated to a whole lot of success on the college basketball court. The coach and players get what they want, but what about the team? Through last year, there have been ten players drafted into the NBA under Romar’s watch. Upshaw is another talented player who figures to at least get a shot – even with his checkered past – and the jury is still out on whether NWG is a bona fide NBA player, but with his pedigree and hype, I bet he finds his way onto a roster. Yet, with ALL this talent we’ve had grace this program, what do we have to show for it? Three Sweet 16 appearances and that’s it. In 13 seasons.
Romar’s best attribute has been his ability to mold players who are totally inept into quality Pac-10/12 players by the time they’re Seniors. But, if his plan is to keep recruiting stud athletes, he’s going to have to do a better job of coaching players up in year 1. Our return on investment is pretty much nil with these guys. I mean, with all the first-year players we had on our team this year, not ONE was able to break out and at least be a somewhat competent role player? For all intents and purposes, we were merely running a 6-man rotation, with a couple extra duds thrown in just to give guys some time to rest.
I know it’s an unfair example, but when you look at teams like Kentucky, they’re out there running full starting lineups of Freshmen and getting the job done. Why is it that seemingly our Freshmen – even our highly-touted ones – consistently underwhelm in year 1? I feel like that’s a problem that’s not getting enough play. It’s all well and good if you bring in a 4-year guy, and he makes big leaps in production from year to year. But, we need help immediately! We need MORE than one dominant player per season if we’re going to go anywhere!
Anyway, say what you will, but the calls are getting louder now for Romar to be fired. I’ve always been a pretty big defender of keeping him the last few years, but at this point I’m on the fence. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say 51% of me wants him to stay and 49% thinks we should just cut ties now and move on. This isn’t nearly the same as Tyrone Willingham, because he was a fucking loser from Day 1. Romar at least has a history of being relatively successful with UW. That has certainly bought enough goodwill to get him to this point, but I wonder if it’ll carry him on into next season.
The crux of the matter is next year’s recruiting class, which is one of the better classes in the country. We’ve all been kind of focused on this being the start of a turnaround for the program, but part of me wonders if it will even matter. Is Romar the coach to do it? Does he have what it takes? And, if the program does decide to cut ties, what will become of all the players who promised to come here? Will they go elsewhere in the conference? Will this be the start of another Dark Age for the program?
I will remind everyone that the Huskies are NOT some historically great basketball school. Before Romar, we had some marginal success in the 80s. Before that, we had a pretty good run in the early 50s. Before that, we had a good run in the 20s & 30s. But, it’s not like there’s some dynasty in the history of this program. No one – especially incoming Freshman and transfer students – gives two shits about what the Huskies did multiple decades ago.
If we’re going to turn this program around – and not have it be a blind fluke – we’re either going to need to find a real amazing recruiter (someone who’s probably a little shady, like Kentucky’s head guy), or we’re going to have to find a coach with a scheme that’s unique and super-difficult to match up against. Who’s the next Chip Kelly of college basketball? That’s who I’m talking about! If we don’t find that diamond in the rough, then it really won’t surprise me to see this program spinning its wheels for the next two decades or more.
The bottom line is, it’s fun to be a mid-major like Gonzaga who finds the perfect head coach who not only chooses to stay for decades, but is a great recruiter and a great tactician on gameday. But, it’s also pretty fucking easy to be that school – with that unicorn of a coach, who consistently dominates in fledgling conferences like the WCC, when your conference competition is nothing – and make the NCAA Tourney year-in and year-out. The Huskies are at a real disadvantage, because we play in a REAL conference, that’s more or less loaded with talent up and down the standings. Here’s to hoping we find that unicorn of a head coach, because more often than not, any kind of good head coach will see the Huskies as a stepping-stone and certainly not a final destination.
I’ve said it repeatedly in the past: I don’t want to get rid of Romar for just anyone. He needs to be legitimately better, and ideally he’d be someone willing to stick around for the long term. Failing that, replacing Romar just to have someone different is no way to run a basketball program.