John McGrath

John McGrath: Retain or fire, it’s time to make decision on Romar

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, left, yells instructions to guard David Crisp during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. UCLA won 98-66.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, left, yells instructions to guard David Crisp during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. UCLA won 98-66. AP

Washington’s worst men’s basketball team in 23 years will play for the final time Wednesday night. This is both a prediction and a hope. If the Huskies somehow prolong the misery they’ve wrought with an upset of USC, human rights watchdogs might launch an investigation.

The 2016-17 season was over a few minutes after it began, when Yale showed up at Hec Edmundson Pavilion and jumped to a 20-point lead in the first half of the opener. Some guys with CEO ambitions went on to win, 98-90, by collecting 21 offensive rebounds. Washington finished with four.

Thanks to a tapioca-soft nonconference schedule, the Huskies managed a 9-9 record in the middle of January. It was a mirage. They’ve won one game outside of Seattle, against Western Kentucky in Las Vegas. Their next most recent victory outside Seattle was at last year’s Pac-12 tournament, also in Las Vegas.

The painful trek from five years of mediocrity to a collapse of historic proportions is pertinent in the wake of a national report regarding Lorenzo Romar’s status as head coach. According to Yahoo’s Pat Forde — who is as as plugged into college sports as anybody in the business — Washington will retain Romar through next season.

A university spokesperson insisted the school has reached no such decision.

The spokesperson said, “We are in the same place we were yesterday, which is planning to thoroughly evaluate all aspects of the program at the conclusion of the season.”

Seems Romar’s players aren’t the only ones dragging their heels. On Nov. 13, the Huskies faced a visiting team from the Ivy League and resembled 98-pound weaklings. I presume UW athletic director Jen Cohen took note of the rebounding mismatch and said to herself, “There is no hope.”

An evaluation is always a good idea if a coach’s job is at stake. When the coach happens to have been employed for 15 years, by the school whose uniform he once wore, the evaluation ought to be thorough.

But what’s left to evaluate?

We all know that releasing Romar from his contract will require a $3.2 million buyout. We all know that he’s assembled a superior recruiting class for next season, anchored by potential NBA superstar Michael Porter Jr.

If Romar is shown the door, we all know Porter follows right behind him, and the prospect of keeping any of the other recruits turns dicey.

Would it be a sin to admit that between the contract-buyout problem and the fact talented reinforcements are on the way, Romar has guaranteed himself a last stand?

The premise of keeping a coach on such terms sounds crass, because it’s all about money: Romar’s contract on one side of the equation, the prospect of the most touted high school player in America putting fans in seats on the other side of the equation.

But that’s the reality. Either acknowledge the reality and move on, with fingers crossed, or make a definitive break as head coaches across the land prepare for the annual round of musical chairs.

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk chose the definitive-break option. A few weeks ago, Sterk informed Kim Anderson that his third desolate season as Tigers’ head coach would be his last.

It couldn’t have been easy for Sterk. Like Romar at Washington, Anderson was entrenched at Missouri, where he flourished as a player and went on to serve as an assistant for coach Norm Stewart, recalled so fondly his name is etched on the basketball floor at Mizzou Arena.

Dealt a terrible hand of cards, Anderson had no clue on how to turn around a once-respected program gone to the pits. Sterk didn’t need to evaluate what was obvious. Announcing Anderson’s dismissal gave Missouri a head start on another kind of evaluation — lining up candidates to succeed him.

A case can be made for parting ways with Romar, who hasn’t taken the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. An equally strong case can be made for keeping a coach renowned for his grace under fire. The program is clean. Attendance is solid. And next season could be the blast of air that stokes the slow-to-burn coals.

Either way, Lorenzo Romar’s work requires no further evaluation. Thumbs up, thumbs down, whatever.

Just make the call. The future is now.

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