Former Player Lorenzo Romar Returns to UW to Coach Basketball

Former Husky basketball star Lorenzo Roma was hired April 4 as the new men's basketball coach at the University of Washington. Romar, 43, who coached at Saint Louis University for the past three seasons, replaces Bob Bender, who stepped down March 19 after nine up-and-down seasons.

Lorenzo Romar. Photo courtesy St. Louis University.
Lorenzo Romar. Photo courtesy St. Louis University.

Romar—whose hiring ended a 15-day search for a successor—faces a daunting challenge at his alma mater. After flirting with the national stage as recently as 1999, the Husky basketball program fell on hard times athletically and academically. The Huskies went 31-58 the past three seasons, never finishing higher than eighth in the Pac-10. In addition, the team was one of just four varsity athletic squads at the UW to have a grade-point average below 3.0. Concerned with the direction of the program, Athletic Director Barbara Hedges asked for Bender's resignation.

Now the reins of the struggling program are in the hands of Romar, who played at the UW from 1978 to 1980 and spent five years in the NBA and seven years with Athletes in Action before moving into the coaching ranks. He completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Cincinnati in 1991. He was an assistant at UCLA from 1992-96, and was credited with recruiting many of the players who led the Bruins to the 1995 national championship.

Romar took the head coaching job at Pepperdine in 1996, engineering an 11-game improvement in his second season. After three years at Pepperdine, he took over at Saint Louis. He brings a 93-88 coaching record to the UW. "If it were not for my alma mater calling, I would still be coaching at Saint Louis University," Romar said.

Romar's hiring didn't come easily, as Hedges had spoken with Missouri's Quin Snyder, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Minnesota's Dan Monson-all coaches with ties to the Pacific Northwest-before offering the job to Romar. But her final decision was hailed by many Husky fans and coaches. "This is the best fit that I've seen for any college in a long time," said former Husky coach Marv Harshman, for whom Romar played.

Lorenzo Romar played for the Huskies from 1978-1980 before going on to a career in the NBA. Photo courtesy Intercollegiate Athletics.
Lorenzo Romar played for the Huskies from 1978-1980 before going on to a career in the NBA. Photo courtesy Intercollegiate Athletics.

Romar has a lot more on his mind than just rebuilding a struggling program. He has the distinction of being the UW's first African-American basketball coach. "I never felt I'd be making history that way," he said. "It's pretty overwhelming to me."

Romar's $700,000 salary is more than double any previous UW basketball coach. He also has incentives for having his team meet academic standards as well as winning the Pac-10 title, qualifying for the conference tournament, making the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four or winning the national title.

The end of Bender's career at Washington came on a bittersweet note. Despite his team's struggles, Bender, who led the Huskies to two NIT and two NCAA tournament berths, was praised for his contagious enthusiasm and for bringing stability and hope to a program that, in 1994, was plagued by losing, infighting and indifference. He will be paid $298,000 for the three years remaining on his contract.

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