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Huskies AD Jen Cohen says firing Lorenzo Romar ‘extremely difficult’ and ‘very emotional’

University of Washington athletic director Jen Cohen met with reporters earlier this evening to discuss the firing of men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. A full transcript of her comments is posted below.

A few quick notes:

--- Cohen said she will wait to release any recruits from their national letters of intent until a new coach is hired. If the recruits decide they don’t want to play for that coach, Cohen said, they will be released to play elsewhere.

--- Romar will receive his full buyout of $3.2 million, per the terms of his contract.

--- Cohen made the decision to fire Romar “a couple of days ago.”

--- A national search for a new coach will begin immediately, and UW will not use a search firm.

(Opening statement) “We really wanted to get in front of the team and staff today before we had you in so we appreciate you accommodating. As you know earlier today we notified Lorenzo he was not going to be retained as our head men’s basketball coach. AS you can imagine, today has been extremely difficult and very emotional for a lot of people. And that’s because of who Lorenzo is. He’s a special person. He’s been a wonderful colleague and he’s meant so much to this university community and meant so much to so many people through the 15 years that he’s been here and also before that as a student athlete. Coach Romar represented our university in so many positive ways: as an alum, as an ambassador, as a mentor to so many student athletes which he still is now and he led the teams with integrity and class. Unfortunately, though, despite some of these strengths we were not able to achieve the results that we needed on the court. When we recruit student athletes here we offer them an extraordinary education at a world class institution but we also offer them the opportunity to be the most competitive athletes they can be and we offer them the opportunity to compete for championships. That’s who we are. That’s a big part of our mission. In the end after a thorough evaluation we felt a leadership change was needed to create the championship culture that we think Washington deserves. We wish Lorenzo and Leona and his family the absolute best. There’s never going to be any words that I can say and we can say that will give all the things that he deserves for his 15 years of service here. I also want to thank Will Conroy who has agreed to serve as the programs point person during this interim time. Will is a fabulous husky and his No. 1 priority is to focus on our current student athletes and our incoming freshmen during this difficult transition. Our focus now turns to an immediate national search for the next huskies basketball coach. This program has remarkable fans, remarkable donors, we have an unbelievable university and we’re in a fabulous city that has a talent rich basketball history. We feel confident that we’re going to be able to attract a coach that shares our vision and passion for developing young men on and off the court, that has a high standard for excellence that has energy and passion and a plan for inspiring a winning culture.”

(When was decision reached?) “I made the decision a couple of days ago.”

(On whether she considered the incoming recruiting class) “We can’t speculate yet on what is going to happen with the recruiting class but this was a comprehensive evaluation of the program so you look at all the factors that are involved and really think about what is the long-term vision for Husky basketball. How do we build a sustainable model? When you have that commitment, when you decide that is how you’re going to build your model, you’re not really able to think about just one person or one recruiting class. You have to think about something a little bit longer term than that.

(Will you release recruits from their NLIs?) “At this point, what we’ll do is we will wait until we get our next coach named. And we ask that all of our recruits wait to meet with that next coach, that their families get to meet with that next coach, here his vision, here his plan, and then we want student athletes that want to be here. So if after that process is concluded and we have student athletes that don’t want to be Huskies anymore, we’ll release them from their NLIs.”

(Timeline for hiring a new coach?) “We’re starting the search immediately. In these cases you have to be really urgent but he diligent. As soon as I can find the right coach with the right fit at Washington, that is the timeline I’m working on.”

(Reports of last week that Romar was returning?) “I’m so happy you asked me that question. That’s ridiculous. This decision was just made. This was such an important decision, it impacted so many different people’s lives. There was no decision made until a couple of days ago. I think this is a great example of sources being reported that aren’t accurate. It wasn’t factual. I don’t know where it came from and that’s disappointing. It creates a lot of different information that’s out there that confuses people.”

(Was there a time when you were leaning that way?) “This has been an ongoing process every day. We’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Started the evaluation process as the season started so every day you get more information and you collect it and you stay objective and eventually when you have enough information to make the decision, you do it.”

(Did any one thing outweigh the others?) “Obviously the performance on the court is an issue, right, but it’s more how are we going to get better? How are we going to keep moving forward? 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. 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.”

(On whether she will approach this hire like UW did with football, or use a search firm) “I’m going to collect a lot of information from people that care about this program – former athletes and others – get information from them on what they’re looking for, and then I’m going to go out and get the best coach for Washington that’s the right fit. There will not be a big search committee.”

(Anyone in mind?) “ADs always have lists. That’s my job. I need to be prepared. And I’ve done my homework.”

(What are you looking for in a new coach?) “Just like I said before, I’m looking for somebody that absolutely has a passion for developing young men on and off the court. That’s who we are at the University of Washington. That’s really important. Somebody that has a high standard for excellence. And somebody that has a vision and a plan and understanding of what Washington’s all about, and they know they can build a championship culture here.”

(Do they have to be a sitting head coach?) “I’m just looking for the best fit for Washington.”

(Have you spoken with any candidates?) “No.”

(What was it like telling the players?) “Really hard. It was awful. What are you going to do? I’ve seen a lot of coaching transitions – we went through this with football – there is no way you can do anything to make the student athletes feel better. I’ve also seen student athletes come out on the other end of these things in a better place, and sometimes they don’t know that or see that at the time. I think that just speaks to the quality of the human being that Lorenzo is, and the loyalty they have to him. I wouldn’t have expected anything different.”

(What was it like telling Romar?) “I don’t want to talk a lot about our meetings. If Lorenzo wants to share that. But the one thing I will say is that Lorenzo handled the situation in typical Lorenzo fashion, with absolute first-class and dignity.”

(On what she was evaluating with the program this season) “Kind of just the overall program, all aspects. There’s a lot of things that go into a program that aren’t necessarily what you see on the court, not just necessarily wins and losses. But I didn’t have a quantitative number. Lorenzo and I never talked about that. I just wanted to see some things improving, and I wanted to see the program improving, and that unfortunately just didn’t happen.”

(More on how she evaluated the program) “I think there’s been a lot of years where he’s been putting this thing together and we’ve had a lot of years where we haven’t had the performance that we wanted. I just wanted to see a plan that was going to get us there. When you look at cultures of programs, you look at all these different factors it involves. You look at player development, you look at recruiting, you look at the personnel, you look at all these different factors. It was kind of the overall comprehensive feel that I had. 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. So it was just the overall comprehensive approach to building something that was more long term, which is really important for us here. We’re all here to have a great program long-term and we have excellence as a high standard, and so that model of being in the process every day and churning it out every day to get better, that’s what all of our programs are all about.”

(Was the decision made more difficult by the fact Romar had been here 15 years?) “This decision was going to be difficult no matter what. Any time you make a decision about somebody they care about, it’s tough. But it’s just part of the job.”

(On needing to taking time after the season ended to evaluate) “That’s the reason why we’re announcing it today, is because we gave it a week and we were still collecting information. There was a certain time where I felt like I had enough information, and I had enough feeling about the situation that I was ready to make the decision.”

(Did you talk to any players before making the decision?) “I didn’t talk to any of our current players. I’ve talked with players that have been in the program before. My philosophy on that is, that’s a lot of pressure that is being put on the student-athletes and this year, for the entire season, I really felt for them and knew the pressure and all the noise and all the media and everything that’s being said about their coach was a lot for them to carry. I don’t want to give them that burden.”

(On Romar’s buyout of $3.2 million) “It’s per the terms of the contract.”

(What about assistants Raphael Chillious and Michael Porter Sr.?) “So all of the coaches are all – the determination on the coaches will be made by the next head coach. So we won’t have any decisions made on (assistant) coaches until the new head coach gets hired, and then they can decide whether or not they’re going to be keeping them or those folks want to stay. That’s as of today.”

(How much of a consideration was Romar’s buyout in this decision?) “It’s always a factor. Finances are always a factor. But whenever you have a coaching change in a revenue sport, you’re going to have a financial impact. That’s just the reality. This year we had been so fortunate because we launched a fundraising campaign in the fall, we had great ticket sales this year, so we were able to absorb that impact through ICA revenues and it was an investment that I felt was right, long term, for the department.”

(On the potential of the UW men’s basketball program) “Every program at Washington can win a national championship. Ask Mary Lou (Mulflur, the women’s golf coach, who was in attendance). Ask Greg (Metcalf, the cross country and track and field coach). They know how to do it. I think this program can win a championship, and I think this program can have sold-out arenas. This is a basketball town and I think there’s a ton of potential here. I think this is a special city. I think it’s a special school, and we’re excited to get somebody in here that’s going to build off that.”

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