Caught up with Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar following the large staff changes the school announced Wednesday. Two longtime assistants — Jim Shaw and Paul Fortier — are out. Raphael Chillious and T.J. Otzelberger are in. Fortier has moved on to be associated head coach at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., under former Seattle U head coach Jim Callero. Here’s a transcript of the conversation with coach Romar:
Why was this the right time to make such big changes with your staff? Sometimes … you’re here 11 years, and, I think when Lamont Smith left, it just kind of opened the doors. I think the staff dynamics changed a little bit. You look around, you very rarely see someone head coach is longer than 10 years, and that trickles down even more so with the staff staying intact. I just think it’s one of those situations where over an 11-period there have been a couple times where there are changes on the staff and sooner or later that’s going to happen.
Was it hard to move on from two guys you’ve worked with and known for so long? Oh, man. You work hard together. Try to get a lot done. It’s not like they’re going to be out of work. As you know, coach Fortier is going to become an associate head coach. If you ask me that, you have to ask … when coach Dollar left, it was hard. Coach Bone left. I was with coach Dollar for a long time. It’s never easy when guys leave.
What do you hope to get out of bringing some fresh and younger blood into the staff? It’s just like certain players, you don’t know who’s a better player, but some players are different. In this case, a guy like T.J. (Otzelberger), he’s younger and he just brings a lot of experience. He’s acted kind of like a head coach when he’s been at Iowa State. He was there eight years and he’s one of those guys, if all you concentrated on was practice, he’d be very valuable for you. If all you concentrated on was game preparation for scouting, he’d be very valuable for you. If you all you counted on was recruiting, he’d be very valuable. I’d just say he’s just so well-rounded, he brings a lot to the table.
Why do you think coach Chillious left and decided to come back? Chill had an opportunity to go back to the East Coast. Chill’s grandmother raised him. There were half a dozen times when he was with us (from 2010-12) that he thought he might have to miss practice or miss a game or miss something because his grandmother wasn’t doing well and thought he needed to see her. She’d be OK and get through it, and he wouldn’t have to go. I just think an opportunity to go and be near her was something he felt he couldn’t pass that opportunity up. Not only him, his wife and his daughter, her great-grand daughter; when he was there, I think he came to the realization that, I’ve been able to see her, if she leaves us now, we’ve had our time with her. And, he just felt a little more comfortable knowing that he got to spend a lot of quality time with her. So, when there was an opening here, he felt it would be fun for him to come back. It wasn’t like he just wanted to desperately leave in the first place.
Did you call him or did he call you? I called him. But, when he heard there was an opening, it was kind of a boy, if you were interested, I kind of get word of that …
Is Otzelberger recruiting only and will not be on the practice floor? No. Like I said, he’s well-rounded. With us, everybody does everything. If he was just in a position where he was not allowed to recruit, he’d have an impact in practice. So, you don’t want to limit him to just recruiting or just limit him on the floor.
Is it fair to say his priority is recruiting or is that not accurate? It is, but it isn’t. There is not an assistant on my staff where recruiting is not a priority. That’s the truth. You have to be hitting on all cylinders. It’s just too competitive. When Jim Harrick hired me, he said, ‘You have three jobs. Recruit, recruit and recruit.’ And, that’s kind of how (our) assistants do that. With that being said, I like my assistants in practice. I like my assistants on the bench during games. I like them in everything that we’re doing.
It’s been suggested that moving on from those two coaches and bringing in new assistants is partly, if not mostly, a reaction to missing the tournament in consecutive seasons. To that, you say what? I would say, if that were the case, in 2008 we would have changed the staff also. Because we missed the tournament two consecutive seasons then, too. The only difference is we won the league two years ago. We finished eighth or ninth in those two years. We also went to the NIT both years and we were worse, did worse, in ‘07-08, there would be more reason, if that logic were true, to make a decision then.
Are you changing anything specifically because you need to find that one final thing to close big recruits you have missed on recently, like Terrence Jones, Aaron Gordon, etc.? To land those big guys was not a part of this equation. Someone even suggested we needed to get better to recruit, and I disagree with that. When you’re somewhere 11 years and there are 12 guys that went on to play in the NBA, you did something right in terms of picking the right players. We haven’t been to the Final Four, but we’ve had some success and won (league) championships and we did that without the guys we have now. I think our guys did a really good job recruiting. The 2012, 2013 class was all me trying to take a risk doing just what you said. To try to get those that were the so-called five stars. When I say we took that risk, we didn’t take a wild risk. It was a calculated risk. It was a risk on about half a dozen kids that said, “Washington is my leader. I love Washington. That’s where I may go. If we all go to the same school, we can win a championship.” And, that’s how you (media) guys were talking. And, in doing that we didn’t feel like we could tell them no. We felt we needed to wait and see what they decided to do. It was a risk, a calculated risk, that just didn’t happen. I will say this: Sometimes people can concentrate on who you didn’t get and forget who you did get. The staff that we had before brought in four really, really good student-athletes. Top-25 class. I didn’t feel we were taking a backseat in recruiting.
You still have a scholarship for next year. Are you still looking around this summer to see what you can do with that? If there was a transfer or someone like a Jared Dudley, who in August did not have a college out of high school and he signed with Boston College in August, if there was someone like that floating around, we would use it. But we’re not just going to raffle off the scholarship because it’s there.
How is C.J. Wilcox’s foot after surgery? He’s in Week 3. Next week, he’s able to take off his boot and start rehabbing, and he’s doing pretty well.
Will you be on the floor for any of these scheduled events at the alumni gathering? If I can somehow get out there between now and then without some muscle pulling or something, I may get out there and shoot a jumper or two.
Doesn’t sound like there will be much defense in the “legends” game, more just people taking deep jumpers and trying not to get hurt? The first game, the Legends Game, that’s only going to be a half. That’s probably going to be the case. But, in that next game, the roster is going to be coming out next week, and there is going to be some pride out there. I’d imagine there is going to be some more defense played in that one than the other.
Do you guys hope to to turn this game into a recruiting tool the way Arizona has turned the Red-Blue scrimmage into a great recruiting tool for them? We’ll see how it turns out. We’re hopeful that a lot of people come out and watch, and we would take it from there. Any time you can create a platform and you have guys of this caliber coming out and they all played at the same school, I don’t think it hurts your recruiting.
Any others leaving the team or having a surgery? You know Martin Breunig is transferring to Montana. That’s it.