Romar "Encouraged" about Husky Football

Lorenzo Romar remembers what it feels like to fail. It was only two years ago that he watched as his Husky basketball team fell to 0-5 in Pac-10 play, while enduring the chanting taunts from Oregon fans. But ultimately, he oversaw a team-wide transformation that led to a 29-6 record and #1 seed in last year's NCAA tournament. That success has perpetuated itself with the news this week that nationally-heralded recruit Spencer Hawes will be attending Washington.

As for Husky football, Romar feels empathy for the players and coaches. Last Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, the Dawgs played tough but succumbed to undefeated UCLA 21-17. The loss was Washington's fourteenth in the past sixteen games, including a dreadful 1-4 start to this season. This week, asked Romar to draw a parallel between the current Husky football situation and his team's struggles from two years ago.

"Well, the first of the low points was when we had gotten beat at home by Gonzaga," said Romar. "It was a sell-out crowd. And we missed twenty-two consecutive shots in the second half. We played well early, but could not put the ball in the basket. The next game we went to Wyoming, and fell behind 29-4. It was the last game before Christmas break. We all went to our respective homes. That was a low point.

"When we came back after the break, there was a new attitude," he said. "We went down to San Diego State and played our best game to that point, I thought. We opened conference play with two games in the Bay Area. We had leads, but in both cases, we lost the lead and couldn't finish the game. Then we had USC and UCLA at home. Against UCLA it went overtime, but couldn't come up with the victory, and we didn't play well against USC and we were 0-4.

"Then we go on the road to Oregon," he said. "We were down again, and couldn't come back. The entire place was chanting PAC-10 DOORMATS! That was the lowest point, at the end of that game. And we were the doormats. We were about to be 0-5 and in tenth place in the conference. The guys were like, `what do we do?' But that was also the beginning of the high point. What we saw in that locker room after the game was a group that didn't know how the answer would come to turn this around. This group had lost for years. But as we (coaches) talked to them after the game, the eyes of our players said `we will not quit.'"

Two days later when the Huskies traveled to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers, a miraculous transformation took place at Gill Coliseum.

"Sure enough, we go to OSU, we fall behind by sixteen with five or six minutes to go," said Romar, his voice becoming slightly more animated. "But we keep playing. Nate Robinson hit the big shot (3-pointer at the buzzer) to send it into overtime. But prior to that, Mike Jensen got a key steal. Tre Simmons made a key bucket. Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson played great second halves.

"And when we went into overtime it was as if the scales fell off our eyes," said Romar. "The hypnotist snapped his fingers. All of a sudden, we were playing team basketball. No one cared who got the credit. There was not one individual on that team. It was as if we did not want to go back to poverty. We were going to do whatever it took to continue to do the right thing. Where had known where we wanted to go and be as a program, those things were there. They were finally beginning to materialize. It took awhile, but those things were growing underneath. It's like if you plant the seed in the dirt, that seed isn't a seed anymore. It is growing and is eventually going to sprout and bloom, but it's still under the ground. Once it breaks through the soil, now you can see it, and now it rapidly starts to take off—and that's exactly what we did."

Former Husky football coach Don James and basketball coach Marv Harshman have described in interviews the mutual support that existed between them and their respective teams. Romar was asked if he and Willingham share a similar bond.

"I attend every home game, and I've always loved Husky football," said Romar. "And Willingham supports us whole-heartedly. From time to time he will see our players on campus and he will speak to them and encourage them. He comes to our games. And when we have recruits come in before games, he will see them and he will walk up and speak to them, without us asking him to do so. I have appreciated that.

"I respect that he is a man with vision," said Romar. "He does not get distracted from his vision. When I say vision, I don't mean fantasy. What I mean is that he's headed to some place where he has been before, and he knows how to get there.

"And what I like most about him personally is that no matter what is going on he somehow always has time for you. When he's with you, you don't get the impression that he's rushing off to do something else—even though he's got five thousand things to do. When he's with you, he's with YOU."

Romar concluded that he believes we are witnessing a renaissance in Husky football.

"I was encouraged during last spring (practice)," he said. "When I went to one of their workouts and I saw things moving at a rapid pace. There was uniformity. Then I went to practice (in August), and I could see that this group had become more together. There was more team spirit, with guys pulling for each other. Despite the losses (this season), they are organized, they tackle better and they play with a purpose.

"Those seeds have been planted below the soil," he said. "Now it's just a matter of time before victories materialize."

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories