Unleashed: Never Thought I Would See The Day
July 3, 2012
By Gregg Bell
Huskies howled across the Internet two weeks ago at something next to impossible. The online equivalent of paternal, old-school Lorenzo Romar wearing baggy shorts down around his knees, unlaced Air Jordans on his feet and Beats over his ears.
Yep, ol' "Coach Ro" has joined Twitter.
"Can't believe he got a twitter. lol," Wroten tweeted in response.
You don't believe it, either? Check it out here.
Thomas, Romar's point guard until he was drafted last summer by the Sacramento Kings, was one of several former Huskies to react after Romar welcomed himself to Twitter on June 20.
But Thomas was only one of a handful of former players welcoming Romar.
Quincy Pondexter (@QuincyPondexter) June 20, 2012
Spencer Hawes (@spencerhawes00) June 20, 2012
Then there was this debut-day Twitter exchange between Romar and one of his first standout guards at Washington, Will Conroy:
Romar gained more than 2,500 followers after his first tweet on June 20. As my old colleague at the Associated Press here in Seattle Tim Booth noted, "That's a pretty good tweet-to-follower ratio."
Romar was up to 4,367 followers Tuesday morning, still less than two weeks since he started tweeting on an account UW's athletic department had created and saved for him months ago.
What in the name of John Wooden is going on here?
"I've been going around and around about it for a while," Romar told me last week over the telephone from the NBA draft in Newark, N.J., hours after he watched Terrence Ross and Wroten become the first Huskies ever to go in the first round of the same draft.
"I've always been the late bloomer in everything I've done," Romar joked.
This is the same 53-year-old man who fidgeted and stewed through a rare "Midnight Madness" start to preseason practice a few Octobers ago. Romar impatiently waited through a silly dance contest between Washington's men's and women's teams plus a dunk contest that night - then vowed never to host another such event again.
This is the same Romar that asked me this spring as a press conference was starting about the old-school microphone that was on my iPhone screen as I placed the device on the table in front of him. When I said it was the audio-recording feature on the phone most UW athletics staffers carry, Romar's eyes grew large as he exclaimed, "You've got to show me how to work that!"
This is the same coach that has threatened to ban his players from using social media during recent seasons, for fear they would become distracted - especially Thomas and, last season, Wroten. Romar refers to them as "the most prolific tweeters I know."
That description came, by the way, in a hip tweet to Thomas and Wroten from their old coach on June 20:
Lorenzo Romar (@CoachRomar) June 20, 2012
Yes, Romar is now one of them.
"No, they tease me, for sure," Romar said with a chuckle when I joshed him about creating more buzz than in any of his previous 10 Junes Washington's coach. "They've been telling me, `I can't believe you joined Twitter! No way!'
"It's OK. I can handle it."
In his first weeks with his new hobby Romar has been tweeting about his former players and about his summer camps that recently started. He's using Twitter to joke with local media members, as when he warned in a tweet to be "careful what you ask for" after being asked by one writer via Twitter to officiate a media-versus-UW staff pickup game.
The coach with strong faith has espoused "the number1 best selling book of all time as the Bible" on his new Twitter feed. He has noted his wedding anniversary with this tweet: "This week celebrating 29 years of being happily married to my best friend Leona!!"
The supposed relic Romar is even posting pictures on Twitter, such as some of Alaska Airlines Arena. I had to ask and, yes, he's doing the digital work on that himself.
To honest, Romar didn't simply roll out of his bed at his home in Seattle's Eastside suburbs one day last month and exclaim to his wife, "You know, Honey, today I am going to join Twitter."
He actually came to Huskies athletic department administrators last year with the idea and had them create a Twitter account in 2011, but then changed his mind.
"I didn't deactivate it though, because I was secretly hoping he would change his mind back," says Daniel Hour, UW's manager of new media and recruiting services.
Romar saw his assistant coach, Paul Fortier, successfully using Twitter to promote the program this spring. Voila! Romar changed his mind back to begin tweeting under the UW brand.
"He's very against self-promotion," Hour says. "So we talked about how to use it to enhance the program through tweeting about UW players in the NBA, interacting with the media and showcasing his personality and wit."
How popular was Romar, even before he started tweeting? He had 697 followers after Hour created his account for him -- without ever posting a tweet, and with zero promotion that the coach even had an account.
"RECRUITS, THEY ARE ON THERE"
There is, of course, a method to this madness of Romar on Twitter.
It's the same reason John Calipari has almost 1.2 million followers at national-champion Kentucky, why Billy Donovan has more than 73,000 following his tweets while he is the coach at Florida.
"Twitter is so prevalent with recruits," Romar said. "All the recruits today, they are on there. There's no way around it."
Yes, top basketball prospects that are 16, 17 and 18 years old use social media like Romar and I used to use bubble gum in high school.
And get this: Three weeks ago, the NCAA swung the regulatory door wide open on viral communication. It ruled it will now allow unlimited texting, calls, and direct messaging through Twitter and Facebook from coaches to recruits once they have finished their sophomore years of high school.
Yes, this is a brand-new digital world. Even to - or make that, especially to -- a veteran of 17 years of big-time college head coaching. Romar played at UW from 1978-80 and in the NBA from '80-85, well before any current or recent Huskies were even born.
"Now, we can have kids evaluating our whole program through social media," Romar said. "Now, to possibly gain an edge, we thought we can explore this avenue more."
How big is it for Washington's men's basketball program that its head man is now on Twitter?
"Huge," Hour says. "Coach Romar is so respected in not only the Seattle community but the basketball community that he needs to be out there for more recruits to see.
"I personally think the hugest part of recruiting is the `family' aspect of it," Hour says. "The program and coaches you sign with are basically your surrogate parents for three or four years, so you need to know as much about the coach as the coach needs to know about the recruit.
"Face time on unofficial or official visits is not enough. Twitter offers the opportunity for authentic, `digital' face time."
By tweeting, Romar is joining some hipster coaching colleagues here at UW.
Football's Steve Sarkisian, some 20 years Romar's junior, has 38,500-plus followers on his @CoachSark page. He was recently listed by Missouri Sports Magazine as one of the top 50 college coaches to follow on Twitter. (Don't ask me what Missouri Sports Magazine is and why it is making such a list).
Matt Thurmond (@MattThurmond, just short of 1,000 followers) is eloquent, refreshingly honest, real, emotional, and often hilarious in his tweets from the Huskies' NCAA regional-champion men's golf program.
One of the first things women's basketball coach Kevin McGuff did upon settling in Seattle to take the Huskies' job in the spring of 2011 was get his @CoachMcGuff feed (2,215 followers as of Monday night) up and running in purple and gold. His page offers a variety of insight on his program, the women's game in college and in the WNBA - and on how his Ohio-born-and-raised kids are adjusting to life/the weather in Seattle.
Heather Tarr has 1,500 followers on her Twitter feed highlighting her popular and wildly successful Huskies softball program.
And now here's a soon-to-be-grandpa, joining the tweeter ether-sphere.
Sarkisian tweeted that memorable day Coach Ro got his computer handle:
OK, so he's finally on Twitter.
Just don't expect to be inundated with more than you'd ever want to know about Washington's supremely personable basketball coach.
"I still don't think I'll be tweeting," Romar said, chuckling, "if I put jelly and peanut better on my toast."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.