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COLLEGE BASKETBALL NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT : Romar Again Chose Bruins : UCLA: Assistant had opportunity to go to Oregon State or UNLV as head coach but said no.

March 22, 1995|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The large man with the large reputation grabbed Lorenzo Romar by the arm, held out his hands, and bellowed loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear:

"Lorenzo!" Utah Coach Rick Majerus said with unfeigned exasperation between first-round games in Boise last Friday. "Why didn't you go?"

Why didn't he? Although he has no collegiate head-coaching experience, Romar was the top candidate for two of the most interesting coaching situations to have opened in the last few years. He's a highly regarded, religious, well-connected, proven recruiter in a UCLA program that may never be hotter.

It was time to cash all that in and take over a program of his own, start earning some serious money, wasn't it?

It wasn't, not for a child of Los Angeles who grew up dreaming of playing at Pauley Pavilion but wasn't recruited by the Bruins.

Romar, 36, finishing his third season as an assistant on Jim Harrick's UCLA staff, last week chose to remain in Westwood despite being the No. 1 candidate for the Oregon State and Nevada Las Vegas coaching positions.

"I thought I was ready," Romar said this week, in the middle of preparations for UCLA's West Regional semifinal against Mississippi State on Thursday in Oakland. "When Oregon State came calling, I was ready to go. But when it really came down to it, I thought, 'Maybe you want to experience this a little longer.'

"There's no doubt about me wanting to be a head coach. But I have a feeling that when that time is right, it won't be a big decision. It'll be something that will be a no-brainer, 'OK, I'm gone, that's it.' "

At Harrick's urging, the UCLA administration moved to keep Romar by offering him a rare--for a basketball assistant--multiyear contract, with a raise to an annual salary believed to be slightly less than $100,000.

Mark Gottfried, the other assistant instrumental in starting the recruiting renaissance that has lifted UCLA, will also receive a multiyear contract at the same terms, according to Athletic Director Peter Dalis.

"Coach Harrick wanted to try to keep the coaching staff together as long as possible, so that's what we wanted," Dalis said.

Though no specifics were discussed, Dalis and Romar both say that the subject of succeeding Harrick, whenever Harrick should decide to step down, was brought up during the talks to keep Romar.

"What I basically said, and I've said it to others as well, is that the opportunity to ascend to the head-coaching job may be more readily available if you were on staff as opposed to if you were at another institution," Dalis said.

Said Romar, a four-year NBA veteran who got his only head-coaching experience in a three-year stint as player-coach of the Athletes in Action traveling squad, "It was not told to me point-blank that you will be the guy. It was told to me that they were pleased with the work that I've done. And they'd like to see me stick around."

Several players are known to have urged Romar to stay, and Romar admits he did not want to leave the players he had recruited.

"I think so many people are so anxious to move and make more money and things, they very seldom realize or talk about whether they're happy or not," Gottfried said. "This is where he wants to be, at least for the time being."

Gottfried, who played with Romar on AIA in the late '80s and recommended that Harrick hire him three years ago, said he scrupulously avoided the subject while Romar pondered. But now that Romar is staying--for at least a few more years--Gottfried said the UCLA program is far better for it.

"Not only because of a professional standpoint and how it will affect our program, but because, in the coaching fraternity there's so many staffs where the chemistry isn't always good," Gottfried said.

"With Lorenzo and I, there's a certain comfort from knowing each other so well. You'd have to begin that process all over again with somebody else. I was ecstatic when I heard (Romar was staying)."

Harrick, obviously, has given no indication that he is anywhere near ending his term at UCLA, and could be coaching the Bruins well into the 21st Century. Is Romar willing to sit and wait for 10 years for a job that might not end up in his hands, anyway?

"I couldn't answer that," Romar said. "There are some days that I feel like, 'OK, the next opportunity I get, I'm getting my own program.' Then there are other days I feel like, 'Boy, this is a great learning process. I'm going to learn as much as I can.'

"Roy Williams was at North Carolina (under Dean Smith) for 10 years. And he went on to Kansas from there. That could happen. If that happened and I felt that's where God was leading me, to just stay here, that could happen. Because it's a great place to be.

"With Oregon State, I went to school in the Northwest and was very familiar with Oregon State, that's what made it so appealing.

"But I went to the University of Washington, and I worked for UCLA, and I'm from Los Angeles. So one day, those two jobs will probably be more appealing to me."

*

According to Athletic Director Peter Dalis, UCLA has tentatively agreed to play in next year's John R. Wooden Classic at The Pond of Anaheim, probably against Maryland.

The Terrapins will face the Bruins in the NCAA West Regional final Saturday if both teams win Thursday.

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