Nov. 1, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SAN FRANCISCO - We already know how popular Lorenzo Romar is in the Northwest.
Five hours spent in lockstep with him at Thursday's Pac-12 men's basketball media day showed why he is beloved he is throughout the conference and, increasingly with the league's new, wider exposure, the country.
Everyone behind the scenes at the new Pac-12 Networks television studios south of Market Street loved him.
The Huskies' 11th-year coach, owner of four consecutive conference regular-season or tournament championships, walked past a glass-encased conference room in which Larry Scott was on the phone. The commissioner pumped his fist through the windows and exchanged triumphant finger points with Romar while still carrying on his phone conversation.
More than once, passers-by looked at Romar's gray, pinstriped suit with a purple, subdued-patterned tie and called out, "Best-dressed coach in the Pac-12."
The suit's coat was even lined in purple.
"It's all my wife," he said of Leona, while backstage with senior captain Abdul Gaddy waiting to go on stage for their press conference with the league's media. "She picks out all my clothes."
Gaddy smiled at his coach and said, "Only top of the line."
Romar not only looked sharp. He looked like the most popular guy in San Francisco right now not named Marco Scutaro. He hugged and high-fived and smiled his way from room to room, from league public-relations questioning to radio and television interviews, and to the press conference. He was warmly greeting and getting greeted by just about everyone he saw, basketball lifers and 20-something interns alike.
He charmed the entire building. Even the scribes, who are noted for their cynicism.
"I started off college as a communications major before I switched to criminal justice," he said of the degree he eventually got at Cincinnati while playing and coaching in the 1980s for the touring team Athletes In Action.
"The media fascinates me."
While he waited to be interviewed on the Pac-12 television set by former Oregon coach Ernie Kent and the league's all-time scoring leader Don MacLean from UCLA, Romar asked a young league staffer about plans for her pending wedding.
"Just make sure he knows, that day you are the star," the 53-year-old husband and father to three grown daughters said to the bride-soon-to-be.
Really, he was the league's Mayor McCheese.
"Hey Brock!" he called in a hallway before passing Washington State sharpshooter Brock Motum, the reigning Pac-12 scoring leader. "Have you missed a shot yet in practice?"
Why is Romar so jovial, so happy among interviewers that tried to remind him that Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten left early to the NBA last spring? That the Huskies last season became the first regular-season league champion to not get selected for the NCAA tournament?
"When I first got to Washington I knew Marv Harshman had coached here for 14 years," Romar said while waiting to go live on the air with Dave "Softy" Mahler on Huskies flagship station KJR-AM in Seattle. "I remember thinking then, `If I could be here even half that time, I'd be ecstatic.'"
So just imagine what's four years beyond ecstatic.
Romar is the longest-tenured coach in the conference now, a point Kent drove home during their playful TV spot.
"You are the dean of the conference? Do you know what that means?" Kent bellowed.
Romar shot back to his friend, "It means I'm old."
Not ancient by any means, but old enough that a couple of the things the league asked Romar to do became comical.
A young digital-media staffer had the coach in a room overlooking 3rd Street for 15 minutes or so in the late morning. He told her that he was newly active on Twitter (@CoachRomar). He said he had a Facebook page that he never touches; "My daughters won't `like' me on Facebook because I never use it," he added.
Then he told the young woman he had his own Instagram page (@coachromar). She was so impressed she almost fell off her chair.
"You may be the most high-tech coach in the Pac-12!" she gushed to Romar.
"With all due respect," the coach replied, "I would not describe myself as `high-tech.'"
The digital staffer pressed on, still impressed.
"You like Instagram?" she asked.
"I use Instagram," he corrected.
He didn't tell her his smart phone, the one with all the awesome pictures of the Huskies' summer exhibition tour of Spain, France, Monaco, and Senegal, was stolen and that he hasn't used Instagram much since.
He also didn't tell her he has no idea what his Twitter account password is, that he only uses it by keeping his multiple electronic devices logged into the social-networking page.
Later, the league had him in front of a TV camera in what another staffer called "the fun room." He was asked to do video takes that will appear on the scoreboard in March inside Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena during the Pac-12's first league tournament there.
He had to talk as if it was March and he was in Las Vegas. Now, Romar is man who met Leona in high school in Compton, Calif. He is a Christian who got into coaching when he asked to be a player-coach for Athletes In Action, the athletic arm of the Campus Crusade for Christ, following the end of his NBA playing career.
So not exactly the pitch man for "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
"I need you to give me a "We are in Vegas, baby!" a woman with the league excitedly exemplified for Romar.
After a puzzled look, the coach agreed. And the camera rolled.
"We are in VEGAS, baby! YEAAAAH!" Romar said, punctuating the declaration with an unscripted air punch with his left fist across the front of his chest.
Standing next to the camera, I laughed out loud, to the point the miffed director asked for another take. Romar nailed that one, too. The producer sitting off camera loved it.
Then the woman asked Romar for his favorite spot or activity in Las Vegas. The casinos, perhaps? The showgirls? The R-rated acts into the wee hours?
"I have newfound love with something in Vegas," Romar, notorious around the Huskies team for his sweet tooth, said into the camera. "We are staying in the MGM Grand, right? Well there is a restaurant in the hotel, Emeril's. They have THE BEST bread pudding in the LAND!"
The interviewer and her crew stood silently, their mouths agape.
Finally, she said, "That's the first time we've heard that one."
So it went for five hours, through an interview for Sirius XM satellite radio with crack-up former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl - "You have had two weeks of practice," Pearl said to Romar. "Has anyone declared for the NBA draft yet?" - through a session with ESPN that included public-service announcements for ESPN asking for donations to the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.
Romar was asked by the ESPN producer what the toughest venue was for the Huskies to play in inside the conference.
"Colorado," he said of the reigning Pac-12 tournament champions that routed UW in Boulder last season. "For us, it's the altitude. And they are good."
Toughest venue in the country?
At one point in the afternoon, he passed Arizona State guard Carrick Felix in the lobby between interviews.
"You ready to roll, aren't you?" he said to Felix.
"Tell your mom I said hi."
On the TV set, he challenged MacLean, on air, to come to Seattle and take on C.J. Wilcox in a shooting contest.
"I think he might be able to take you, Don," Romar said to the UCLA dead-eye that broke the league's scoring record by running the same high-post offense Romar is having UW run for the first time this season.
As the long day of shuttling around was ending, Romar offered another glimpse into why he is who he is, the Mayor McCheese of Pac-12 coaches.
"When I was younger I used my athletic talents to see what I could take from others, because of sports," Romar said. "Later on, I learned it wasn't about that at all.
"It's about what you can give."