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Lorenzo Romar's Huskies are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season. (AP)
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Huard: Pac-12 insiders think UW’s Lorenzo Romar will return in 2018

Lorenzo Romar's Huskies are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season. (AP)

The Lorenzo Romar era at the University of Washington may have hit a new low over the weekend when the Huskies were dominated on their home court in a 107-66 loss to UCLA. It was their most lopsided defeat in Romar’s 15 years at UW, it came in front of the program’s first sellout crowd since 2012 and it dropped the Huskies to 9-14 this season.

Afterward, Romar said that he “didn’t recognize” his team that night. When asked about the possibility of being fired, he told reporters, “That has not been indicated to me by the people I work for” but shouldered responsibility for the team’s poor play.

Is Romar running out of time with under-performing Huskies?

With the likelihood of a sixth-straight season without an NCAA tournament berth, and despite the effort of freshman Markelle Fultz, arguably the best player in the country and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the looming possibility of Romar’s dismissal remains. However, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard said several conference insiders that he polled don’t think that will happen anytime soon.

Huard, a former UW quarterback, sent text messages to seven people with connections to Pac-12 basketball – three former coaches, three former players and one national analyst – asking them “yes or no” on whether Romar will return to UW next season.

According to Huard, “Five of seven said unequivocally yes. One of them said, ‘Everything I’m hearing is no, but the recruiting class is too good so more than likely yes.’ So six of seven basically said because of what’s coming, the answer is going to be yes.”

That 2017-18 recruiting class appears to be key to Romar’s future. It’s considered one of the top incoming classes in the country, headlined by 6-foot-10 forward Michael Porter Jr., arguably the most highly regarded Huskies hoops prospect ever, who is playing at Nathan Hale High School and could be a likely lottery pick in the 2018 draft.

The seventh person Huard texted with said that yes, Romar would be back, “unless he takes another job.” That rumored job is at Missouri. St. Louis Dispatch reporter Jeff Gordon may be responsible for that rumor, writing Tuesday that Mizzou might check on Romar because of his strong connection to that area.

“Last year Romar hired assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. away from the Missouri women’s coaching staff to secure the services of Michael Jr. along with younger brother Jontay, who is committed to the Huskies for 2018,” Gordon wrote. “Last season the Porters played at Tolton High School in Columbia (Mo.). Their sister Cierra is a sophomore forward at Mizzou. Some Missouri fans are clamoring for a family reunion, since the ultra-talented Porters would inject life into the downtrodden men’s program. Other fans are wary of Romar, given his inability to keep pace in the Pac-12 despite some outstanding recruiting.”

Romar has been a tremendous recruiter and ambassador in  Seattle since joining the Huskies program in 2002. After reaching the NCAA tourney in six of his first nine seasons at UW, Romar’s squad hasn’t made it back since the 2010-11 season. When Huard floated the Mizzou idea to his other contacts, they said they’d heard the rumor, but that because UW’s season has gone so poorly this season, the Tigers may not be interested.

Still, the idea of Romar leaving willingly for a new school might be beneficial to both parties, Huard said, as it would allow a coach who has done tremendous work as a leader and ambassador for the program to save face while also easing some major budget constraints. Romar is in the midst of a 10-year contract that expires in 2020. Huard said firing Romar would be a major financial hit to the tune of around $3 million, which he said athletic director Jennifer Cohen might just not be willing to eat.

Huard said it’s a little like former UW football coach Steve Sarkisian leaving for USC, “when you knew there was some dysfunction and you just couldn’t get over the hump, and that opened the door for Chris Peterson. Could that not open the door, even if it means losing a once-in-a-generation kind of recruiting class?”

Huard’s impression is that, even if it means losing Michael Porter Jr., it might be best if Romar finds another suitor.

“Speaking of a step backward to go forward, that may just be a win-win for all parties involved in what’s been a brutal, brutal year,” Huard said.