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The common thread

Lorenzo Romar is known for his fiery demeanor on the court and his fatherly attitude off it. Photo by Saskia Capell

Look at their respective resumes, and it’s easy to see the successes of these five Washington coaches.

But look beyond Jim McLaughlin’s 10 straight postseason appearances and 2005 national title, and there is an intensely detailed and thought-out coaching plan.

Look beyond Bob Ernst’s six national championships, and there is a persistent industrious attitude. Look beyond Heather Tarr’s national championship and her quest to make Husky softball a dynasty, and there is a young assistant coach trying to prove herself to a hiring committee with an eight-page business plan.

And behind the titles and the accolades and success there is an underlying philosophy, a common thread of principles that indelibly shapes the UW teams. Sometimes it’s overt, and sometimes it’s the more subtle messages — the demeanor, the methods of communication and motivation — that reflect a coach’s background and personality, influencing their athletes for years to come.

Take, for instance, men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, who demonstrated an innate desire to teach his peers the game of basketball well before he realized he would end up coaching.

He befriended gym custodians and parks-and-recreation leaders so they would let him into their gyms. He organized pick-up games. As a player — first at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., and then at the UW — Romar would volunteer to host recruits.

“And those were all things I was doing without thinking, ‘I want to be a coach,’” Romar said. “I just naturally did them.”

Romar grew up the son of two parents who worked in factories. He remembers his father leaving at five in the morning to work long shifts as a welder, and his mother sometimes working two jobs to help support the family. Romar credits his father for teaching him a calm demeanor, and both parents for instilling in him a relentless drive to work.

Now, Romar functions as a father figure for the young men on his team, one who can both enforce discipline and provide positive feedback.

“My wife and I have raised three daughters, and it takes a lot of work,” Romar said. “We had to drop what we were doing. We had to make sacrifices for them a lot of times, because we love them and wanted to do right by them. It wasn’t easy, but they know that we’re there for them. I always say I have three daughters and 13 sons.”

Ernst grew up in a different era than Romar, but his parents instilled similar values in him.

Ernst’s teams bear characteristics that are indicative of his upbringing. The first member of his family to graduate from college, Ernst grew up in an industrial, blue-collar family. His grandfather and uncle worked as railroad engineers and his father worked for Chevron.

Ernst is a firm believer in being straightforward with his rowers and giving them the resources to accomplish his clearly-established expectations.

“Across the board in our program, we make every effort to make it as transparent as possible,” Ernst said. “How you earn your station in the program, what it takes to be good, what it takes to make the traveling team, what it takes to make the first boat.”

Like Romar, Matt Thurmond — the UW men’s golf coach — was engrossed in the process of coaching before he realized it. His father coached him and his brother in two sports. Thurmond read John Wooden’s “They Call Me Coach” when he was 11. By the time he was in eighth grade, Thurmond had read 10 books about coaching basketball.

“I always have seen sport through the lens of a coach, and I didn’t even necessarily know that at the time,” Thurmond said. “But looking back, it’s not a surprise to me that I’ve found my passion in coaching.”
Rather than being an autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway coach, Thurmond tries to adapt to the distinct individual styles of his golfers.

“I think the underlying philosophy that motivates everything I do is that I believe a coach is a servant,” Thurmond said.

Some coaches are driven by their principles. But others, such as McLaughlin and Tarr, are driven by preparation and concrete plans.

When she was a 29-year-old assistant coach at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., Tarr, a former UW third baseman, set her eyes on the head-coaching job at her alma mater.

She devised an eight-page plan, detailing her coaching philosophy and her plan for the UW softball program. It included plans for recruiting, fostering a relationship with alumni, installing lights at Husky Softball Stadium, winning a national championship, and building a dynasty.

“I knew I needed something to prove what I was about that maybe wasn’t on paper, because I didn’t have head-coaching experience,” Tarr said. “On the paper, I proved how I was going to run this program.”
Eight years later, Tarr can put a checkmark next to all of her listed goals.

McLaughlin, who regularly quotes Aristotle and is a firm believer in statistical analysis, has broken his coaching philosophy down into seven principles: consistent improvement, creating the proper environment for improvement, fostering healthy coach-player and player-player relationships, organization, proper training methods, team character, and faith in his own methods of coaching.

The philosophy outlines his commitment to help each of his players maximize their individual abilities.
A two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, McLaughlin sees himself as a teacher at the core, whose lessons include a lot more than volleyball and last much longer than an athlete’s college career.

“Coaching at the highest level is teaching,” McLaughlin said. You’re working with these kids emotionally, mentally, intellectually, physically, so there’s a lot to it, but you’re teaching them how to play the game, and you’re teaching — if you do it right … you just don’t impact them for four or five years, it impacts them for life. … We’re using volleyball to teach them a lot of things.”

Reach reporter Ryan Hueter at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ryanhueter

Check back next week for a further look at the intertwining philosophies of Husky coaches in part two of The Daily’s look at the UW coaching community.

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