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Updated Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 10:32 PM

Romar: Drawing the line between blame and patience

By Jerry Brewer
Times staff columnist

Lorenzo Romar started it. Remember that as we begin this conversation.

If it weren't for the stellar job Romar has done with the Washington men's basketball program, there would be no heightened expectations, no fears about the Huskies slipping, no furrowed brows and palms up while watching this current team stumble through offensive sets. It's important to frame any evaluation of Romar with one truth in mind: He gave you the right to be spoiled. He defied Washington's mediocre hoops history and developed your palate for good Husky basketball.

Because the Huskies are struggling in his 11th season, it's easy to drown out perspective with frustration. Without question, their 13-10 record, their five losses in six games and their incomplete roster are unacceptable and beneath the standard Romar has set. But if you're already putting Romar's buns on a frying-pan cushion, you're thinking in unrealistic and reactionary terms.

The coach is having a bad year, and it's fair to criticize what he has done to contribute to that: overvaluing the talent on his current roster, failing to pursue a significant recruiting class even though he knew Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. were likely to leave early for the NBA, the team's poor execution late in close losses and the lack of consistency.

If you're obsessed with blame, those are the areas where you hit Romar. He understands better than anyone that, as the coach, general manager and CEO of his program, it all comes back to him. But there's a difference between that type of criticism and what I refer to as terminal blame.

Let's explain terminal blame. It's a phrase I coined to indicate when a public figure is being ripped because he has done too much wrong for too long a period, and the diminishing returns are clear, and if there isn't a swift turnaround, the only option left is to fire the person. Romar is a long way from reaching that point, so don't get carried away with frustration.

It has been an ugly season. But if any local coach has built the equity to have an off year, it's Romar.

If the Huskies are still frustrating a year from now, then you should be concerned because they would be a program in decline. Right now, though, this season is an aberration in Romar's Husky tenure.

The best way to judge Romar's, or any coach's, performance is to measure him against the school's history. It will tell you if someone is building a tradition, living off a tradition, treading water or underperforming. When you evaluate Romar, there's no question he has raised the profile of Washington men's basketball and established a new standard.

Consider: The Huskies won 59.9 percent of their 2,412 games before Romar arrived in 2002. Romar has won at a 65.4 percent clip in his 355 games at Washington. He has six of the program's 16 NCAA tournament appearances and eight of their 18 Big Dance victories. After three Sweet 16 appearances, three conference tournament titles and two regular-season conference titles, Romar has brought a level of sustained success to the program not enjoyed since the prehistoric days of Hec Edmundson. The Huskies' 190 wins from 2004 to 2012 were the most ever over an eight-year span in program history.

Romar's coaching tenure coincides with the Seattle/Tacoma area becoming a hoops hotbed, and that has given him some great local recruiting options. But even before the region gained national acclaim for its talent, the area was producing good talent, and Romar predecessors Andy Russo, Lynn Nance and Bob Bender could only produce a 227-266 combined record (.460 winning percentage).

The point isn't that Romar is untouchable. It isn't that there are no concerns about a program likely to miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight year. And it isn't that we shouldn't demand more.

The point is, if Romar has taken you this far, doesn't he deserve the patience to make adjustments and redirect this program from good to great?

After 11 years, you know that Romar has clear strengths and weaknesses. Lately, the focus has been on his flaws, most notably that he's not exactly Tubby Smith when it comes to in-game strategy. But in the four other major aspects of coaching — recruiting, motivation, player development, scouting — Romar and his staff rate from good to very good. They're not flawless. They can clean up things in all those areas, but those are well within their skill set.

If you've gone from fascinated to flummoxed by the Huskies, you're not alone. But ask yourself three questions: Are the problems terminal? Has Romar really changed from the coach who has done one of the better coaching jobs in the nation the past decade? And if you're spoiled by success and want something better, are you certain the Huskies would find better if the job became open?

Romar has given this program a rare gift: an alum with a winning formula who has little desire to go elsewhere. Washington would be the next-to-last step for a lot of coaches who have won like Romar. But he's yours for as long as you'll have him.

Despite the troubles of this season, you should want to have him for a lot longer.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

Sunday

UW men @ USC, 7 p.m., ROOT Sports



Lorenzo Romar




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