Had a chance to talk to coach Lorenzo Romar about the changes on the Washington coaching staff.
Last month the Huskies hired assistants T.J. Otzelberger and Raphael Chillious and didn’t renew contracts for long-time assistants Jim Shaw and Paul Fortier who left the program. Brad Jackson is the only assistant returning next season.
On the surface, it appears the coaching changes were made to improve Washington’s ability to land highly touted recruits. However, Romar dispelled that notion. He cited a dozen former UW stars playing in the NBA as proof the former coaching staffs did a good job recruiting and securing high-end talent.
Romar took the blame for failing to land several notable 2013 prospects while praising the four-man class that was assembled.
It appears coaching changes were made because Romar needed to surround himself with people who aspire to be head coaches. He said it’s rare for college coaching staffs to stay together as long as the trio of Romar, Shaw and Fortier. He talked fondly about the departures of Ken Bone and Cameron Dollar who left to take head coaching jobs. He said former UW assistant Lamont Smith left this season to take an associate head coaching position at New Mexico.
Romar’s take on the role of an assistant is an insight into how he wants to put together a staff and dole out responsibilities.
Here’s a transcript of most of the interview.
(Want to talk about the changes on the coaching staff. Was there an overriding theme or did one change lead to another? Also did you go into the offseason thinking this is what was needed to upgrade the program or was it something that just came together organically?) “It kind of came together. When one change is made, sometimes it changes the dynamics of the staff. Sometimes like out on the floor, if you’re doing things one way or playing a certain way and you lose a couple of pieces, then you have to replace them. And sometimes you replace them with players that bring something different. So maybe that changes the dynamics of how you play a little bit based on what you have. When you look at how long a couple of guys have been here on this staff, I don’t know if you see that across the country where there’s longevity that way. You don’t see that with the head coach. I just think over a period of time, sometimes the dynamics of your staff changes. This is not something that’s going on every two years, but we finished our 11th year. Over an 11-year period I would say rarely in this business do things stay the same. So you replace one coach, the dynamics change maybe and this is where we’re headed. I like the guys that are no longer here and I like the guys that are here now and where we’re headed.”
(Have you ever had this much upheaval on your coaching staff?) “No. The other ones it didn’t happen because we weren’t there that long. We were in Pepperdine for three years and all three years we had the same staff. We went to Saint Louis and there were a couple of changes within those three years. One coach left and became a head coach. Another coach left. He was still an assistant, but it was a pretty good situation and it was hard for him to turn down. We’ve never been anywhere 11 years. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d be interested to seeing if someone is there 11 years how many of them had the same staff for 11 years.’
(Is it difficult to part ways with assistants? Is it one conversation or several conversations?) “I would just say it’s not easy. It’s not an easy process to go through. And I’ll just leave it at that. It’s not an easy process.”
(I know you evaluate yourself and the program after every season. This year did you go into the offseason thinking you need to make changes to the coaching staff?) “I wouldn’t say it was that way. No. I would say more when coach Smith left, it just kind of first it was coach Chill. Then coach Smith left. Now there’s different dynamics on your staff. This is where we ended up.”
(In the folks who aren’t here we’re talking about guys we like so it’s a tough conversation, but it appears from the outside looking in that you upgraded the recruiters on your staff. Is that a fair statement?) “Let me say this, I think those guys – Coach TJ his work, not just his reputation, but his work speaks for itself. He’s done a great job. Coach Chill left for a year, but coach Chill is a dynamic recruiter as well. But people should not mistake or forget what guys did before them. I’ll tell you right now Jim Shaw is one of the best recruiters in America. I don’t think people should all of sudden look at this and say they had to change recruiting. I think we recruited really well since we’ve been here. I’ve talked about it before. We’re trying to get to the next level and we felt we had an opportunity to do that with some guys that we were going after in the 2013 class. When you have a half of dozen guys as late as July telling you you’re my No. 1 choice and they’re high-level kids – you can have a Plan B and you can have a Plan C – but when they’re at that high level, you try to get those guys. It was my decision to try and get to the next level. And to try and do that, that was my decision. The head coach’s decision. A lot of those guys we didn’t get and as a result, it didn’t seem like our class was that strong. That wasn’t a reflection of my assistants didn’t do a good job. That was the head coaching saying hey we can’t take certain guys because we have a chance, a legitimate chance it wasn’t whistling in the wind. We had a legitimate chance where a kid was saying this is where I’m probably going to go. They were high-level kids. When you take a risk like that and that’s what it was, it was a calculated risk then you miss out on some other guys and that’s kind of what happened. Well that wasn’t because of the assistants. Aside from that I think we had recruited as well as any period in this program’s history. That’s why I say it’s just a perception. People can’t say that. That would mean we never recruited. When you have 12 guys who have gone and played in the NBA, somebody is recruiting them. I couldn’t say our guys are bad recruiters so we had to bring someone else in. That’s not true and the proof is in the pudding.”
(That’s all very understandable. But you have to know the question comes up because you bring in Otzelberger as the coordinator of recruiting and Chillious who is a noted recruiter.) “Well then again does that mean should have gone out and got worse than what we had. If coach Chill, coach T.J. or coach Jackson went out and got a job tomorrow or the next year, we’d go out and try to get somebody to take another step to be at least as good as they were if not better. So whenever a change is made for whatever reason, it’s another other opportunity to try and improve. I don’t look at that as a negative, I look at it as a positive. You try to go out and get better. Again, I think our guys did a great job of recruiting in the past.”
(I remember a conversation we had when Cameron Dollar left your staff. I incorrectly made the assumption his departure would hurt UW because he was your right-hand man and a solid recruiter who had been with you a long time. But you something that’s always stuck with me. You said you like it when your assistants leave to become head coaches. So I’ll ask is that the kind of program you want where guys are with you for a period of time, but always looking to be a head coach somewhere else?) “No doubt. If you don’t want to be a head coach, I don’t know if we want you on our staff. We want guys who want to become head coaches.”
(What type of individual does that bring to your staff?) “It brings someone that’s trying to think like you think. It brings someone that is putting themselves in a head coaches’ mindset. We know assistants make suggestions and head coaches make decisions. When all you can do sometimes is reach into the wind and pull out a suggestion without a whole lot of backing and no consequence to yourself. That’s easy to do. But if you’re going to think okay if I’m in that position and that final call is on me, then what am I going to do? Day to day working in the office if I’m thinking like a head coach, I need things done. I want to be the best I can be. I’m not going to look at this is my little area that I’m supposed to work in and when I have that all nice and tidy I can go home. When you think like a head coach, you see the entire program. Even though you may be designated in your role as an assistant, you still may be trying to help out in some other areas and see where you can help the program. You’re looking at the program and not just your area.”
(You have two assistants that have said they want to be a Division I head coach. Brad Jackson who was a great D-II coach said that as well as Otzelberger. Does Chillious want to be a head coach in college?) “No question. No doubt. He would definitely want to be a head coach. Then you get other situations. Coach Smith left to be an associate head coach at New Mexico. When I was in Saint Louis, coach Shaw moved on to have a bigger role at Oklahoma. Sometimes that happens.”
(Can you tell me a few things about Coach T.J.?) “I think he’s a star. A young star in this profession. Coach (Jim) Harrick, who is the only guy I ever worked for in this profession, told me and would tell others when you have some questions about how you should handle things he’d say if I have to tell you what to do, then I don’t need you. He wanted guys that had a feel. He didn’t mind working with someone and mentoring someone. That was fine. But he needed someone on his staff or a couple of guys that just knew what to do and T.J. is like that. He just knows what to do. Whether that’s during a timeout. Whether that’s on the practice floor or out there recruiting. He just understands. He gets it. He’s really well rounded.”
(I heard he’s going to help install the defense. Does he have knowledge of the way you like to play defense?) “I wouldn’t say installing because we have our defensive system. What he will play a big part in is helping run our defense.”
(With Chillious, it seems a little odd for someone to go away for a year and then return. I haven’t talked to him, but can you explain how his situation developed?) “He’s from the east coast and his grandmother who raised him had been ill. And she was on the east coast. There were a half a dozen times when he was here that he’d call me at my house at night or tell me at the office that hey my grandmother is back in the hospital and I may need to take the family to see her because she may not make it. I may need to go on the east coast and I may need to miss that game. It was just on his mind. That’s his heart. And when he had the opportunity to go to Villanova to be there 30-35 minutes away from her, he thought given her condition this was an opportunity to be around her if something where to happen. Well with him being there he spent quite a bit of time with her. His wife and daughter spent considerable time with her. He came to the conclusion that now we’re at peace. If something were to happen and she were to leave this Earth, we were able to spend quality time with her. It wasn’t something where he was just looking to get away from Washington. He liked it here, but he loves his grandmother. So when he had an opportunity to come back, feeling the way he does now, he came back.”
(Does he fall back into his old duties?) “Yeah. He will be working with our guards. T.J. will assist him there, but he’ll probably really be working with our guards. He’s going to be involved a lot in player development. Working with our guys individually. Planning our workouts in the offseason. Guys are going to be playing in summer leagues. Doing all of those things. Placing the guys in those different situations. Off the court, with housing and all that stuff, he’ll be really in tune with the players and their development.”
(Who takes over the scheduling?) “Lance LaVetter who was doing it when we first got here so he has experience.”
(Will you still have the Player Development position?) “No. We’re not. That was just for a brief time.”
(Considering the changes, do you think it’ll take some time for you staff to gel?) “When you look at it, T.J. is the new coach. Chill has been here. He knows how we do it. Brad Jackson has come to countless practices in the past before he was even here. He knows what we’re doing. He was with us on the foreign tour. He was with us last year. It’s not as big a change as one might think. The one that has to learn our system more than anyone is coach T.J. and he’s very smart. He picks things up defensively. He already understands what we’re doing. He’s very comfortable with that. It won’t be a huge adjustment.”
(Did you need this change? Will it allow you to stay fresh and invigorated?) “You’re always trying to be better. A couple of years ago I began to really look at our program and see where we can get better. You’re always looking at different things. When coach (Ken) Bone left there was change. A new assistant came in. When coach Dollar left there was change. Whenver that happens you have to teach your new staff member what you’re doing to help them get acclimated. Whenever there’s change you have that attitude of let’s get everything in line. Every time something like that happens you’re challenged and you learn from it.”