TUCSON — After so many years of trying to beat the Arizona Wildcats, Lorenzo Romar has joined them.
This weekend he will hit the recruiting trail in his new job as associate head coach on Sean Miller’s staff.
Romar, wearing a T-shirt that read “Wildcat Basketball Never Stops,” spoke with reporters Thursday about why he took the job after two decades as a college head coach, the last 15 years at Washington before he was fired a month ago.
Romar said that shortly after he became unemployed he got a call from Miller.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’m not putting any pressure on you right now, but I’d really like you to consider joining us at the University of Arizona,’” Romar said. “It really caught me off-guard because I wasn’t thinking I would go (get a job) as an assistant in college.”
But Romar said he has great respect for Miller and the Arizona basketball program.
“After I really thought about it, I got really excited,” Romar said, “really excited about the opportunity.”
He wouldn’t reveal the specific duties that he and Miller discussed, but said they were “right in my wheelhouse.”
“The mission he laid out for me was something that was very, very appealing,” Romar said.
He will experience a significant drop in salary to $400,000 a year, but will be able to get along nicely thanks to a $3.2 million buyout from Washington .
And Romar is joining a perennial Pac-12 contender.
“If you’re going to be in a situation, take another job,” he said, “you want to be if possible in a situation where you can compete at the highest level and that’s what Arizona does.”
Romar had put together one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for next season with the Huskies. Asked about that, he buried his head in his arm in mock despair, then got serious.
Washington has missed the NCAA Tournament for six straight years and Romar said he felt the upcoming freshman class would change that trajectory.
“We felt, ‘OK, we finally got it back to where we’re going to be winning again,’” he said. “You anticipate that. You don’t see anything differently. Then when it’s taken away from you, it was tough.”
He said he spoke to each of the recruits after he was fired. Most of them backed out of their commitment, although Jaylen Nowell, a top prospect from Seattle, announced he was sticking with the Huskies.
Now Romar will find himself recruiting against Washington.
“It’ll be a different experience,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
But, Romar said, “It was never communicated by coach Miller that we’re bringing you in because we want you to get the Seattle kids. It’s never been brought up. He’s talked to me about having even more of a presence on the West Coast, and that covers a lot of ground.”
Romar first came to Tucson as a Washington player and he’s long been impressed with the basketball atmosphere here.
“When you get off the bus and there are people around and you see all the red and you see just the kind of buzz that’s going amongst the people that are going to the game,” he said, “you know right then, the tone is set, you’re about to go on the big stage here.”
Romar said he arrived in Tucson on Monday but already sees the way Miller’s program operates, saying everything is “very organized.” He’s done some recruiting with Miller and watched film.
He said he won’t change his style as a recruiter.
“Coach Miller gives you the flexibility to recruit within your own personality,” he said. “... So I’m just going to go in and be natural and go out and try to help people see how great a program U of A is.”
Romar, 58, said he wants to be a head coach again, but won’t be looking for anything soon.
And he doesn’t think he will have any problem reverting to an assistant’s role, something he hasn’t done since his long-ago days on the staff of Jim Harrick at UCLA.
“I’m not here to run things,” he said. “There’s someone here that does a fantastic job of running (things) in Sean Miller. I’m sure on the bench there will be times I want to jump up, but I know my role, I know my place. I’m just here to help.”