George Washington coach Mike Lonergan accused of verbal, emotional abuse

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Friday, July 22, 2016

George Washingtonbasketball coach Mike Lonergan routinely abused his players verbally and emotionally, creating an offensive environment and causing many of them to leave the program as a result, according to a lengthy report in the Washington Post.

Citing interviews with multiple former players and staff members, the Post painted a picture of a coach who regularly crossed the line in his assessments and critiques of his players. According to the newspaper, Lonergan told one athlete he belonged in a "transgender league" and suggested another's son would forever rely on public assistance.

One former player, according to the Post, said he needed therapy to cope after his time playing for Lonergan.

Thirteen players have transferred from George Washington in Lonergan's five-year tenure.

"I don't think the guy should be in sports," one former player told the Post. "I don't think what he said should be tolerated. I would like to stay at GW. I will not play for Mike Lonergan."

One former member of the George Washington basketball staff said, "A lot of kids transfer because they have delusions of grandeur. Nobody transferred from GW with delusions of grandeur. They just transferred because they hated him. They couldn't stand another second of him."

Lonergan, who led the program to the NCAA tournament in 2014 and an NIT championship last season, responded to the Post's report through a statement.

"I will not respond to anonymous, unfounded allegations," he said. "These types of accusations have already been investigated by the University and found to be groundless. Those who know me know that I conduct myself and run my program with integrity. I have a long record of graduating student-athletes who go on to be successful in life. I am proud of my student-athletes' success on the court and in the classroom, and I am focused on preparing for the upcoming season."

Lonergan did not respond to a request for comment by ESPN.

The Post reported that allegations of abuse against Lonergan during the 2014-15 season prompted a meeting between the coach and administrators, who requested practice film to examine Lonergan's actions. After associate athletics director Ed Scott began to travel with George Washington last season, Lonergan began to target athletic director Patrick Nero, according to one former player who spoke to the Post and expanded on his comments to ESPN.

"The stuff (Lonergan) has said about the athletic director made everybody uncomfortable," the player told ESPN.

The player said Lonergan routinely accused players of engaging in sexual relationships with Nero.

"It was very odd," the former player said. "He had this weird obsession."

In early April, the former player met with Nero to discuss a variety of concerns, including inappropriate comments Lonergan allegedly made on a recruit's visit in October and during private conversations. He and other former players who spoke to the Post said Lonergan created an awkward and intimidating environment.

That resulted in a Title IX investigation since Title IX refers to sexual harassment of any kind.

In an email the former player shared with ESPN, Nero said, "I appreciate you stopping in today to let me know of your conversation with Coach Lonergan in the fall and your concerns with this conversation. Obviously, this was not something that was easy to share."

According to the email, Nero told the former player he would confidentially share their exchange with Rory Muhammad, the school's Title IX coordinator. A week after his meeting with Nero, the former player emailed Muhammad afterward to express concerns that "it seems as if nothing was taken seriously."

"This worries me because if I (and others) choose to leave the University, word of Coach Lonergan's verbal and emotional abuse, as well as player mistreatment would eventually be known among the greater community," the former player wrote to Muhammad. But the former player said Muhammad ultimately told him the program had handled everything internally, which he viewed as a failure to take action against the coach who signed an extension through the 2020-21 season after a successful 2013-14 campaign.

The player then left the school.

"One day, I said I have to do something," the former player told ESPN of his decision to publicize the accusations against Lonergan. "I don't think it's fair that people have to leave the school they love. The Title IX coordinator didn't protect athletes."

George Washington President Steven Knapp responded to the Post story in a statement, saying, "Whenever and wherever we receive an allegation of misconduct, we conduct a fair and thorough investigation, and we take action as appropriate on the basis of what that investigation reveals. Investigations take time, and I don't think anyone ever benefits from a rush to judgment in advance of the facts."