Lonergan dismissal leaves questions unanswered

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Mike Lonergan was officially released as GW's head men's basketball coach Saturday following a probe into verbal and emotional abuse allegations launched in late July.

In the hours after Mike Lonergan was officially dismissed as head coach of the men’s basketball program Saturday, questions emerged about the investigation that led to his firing and the team’s future after his sudden departure.

The announcement came after a probe into Lonergan’s conduct found that he “engaged in conduct inconsistent with the University’s values,” following a July Washington Post story that detailed verbal and emotional abuse allegations and a Title IX complaint against the coach.

“The University has created and is committed to maintaining a community where all students, faculty and staff feel welcome and comfortable. We value inclusion and diversity and will not tolerate conduct that runs counter to those principles,” Provost Forrest Maltzman said in a release Saturday.

Maltzman added that an interim head coach will be named soon and that the University will conduct “a broader review” of the athletics department.

Late Sunday afternoon, The Hatchet received a statement from Lonergan’s attorneys that the former head coach “will seek appropriate relief from the University for this wrongful termination and treatment.”

Less than two weeks away from the team’s first practice, it remains unclear how the situation unfolded and who will lead the team throughout the upcoming season.

Multiple officials repeatedly declined to comment for this story. A number of former players and one former team staffer did not return requests for comment, and a spokesperson for the Colonial Army said the fan group would not be releasing a comment on the situation.

Here’s what we know:

News breaks Friday night
Reports of Lonergan’s firing first broke Friday night, when USA Today Sports’ Dan Wolken was the first to report Lonergan’s firing on Twitter, citing an anonymous source close to the team.

Recruit Anthony Longpre, a 6-foot-9-inch forward, was on campus for an official two-day visit over the weekend, Glenelg Country School men’s basketball head coach Kevin Quinlan said.

Quinlan told The Hatchet that Longpre was with GW players when they learned the fate of their head coach on social media Friday night.

An anonymous source close to the team confirmed to The Hatchet that players were not notified of the decision before they saw posts online.

One player told The Post’s Adam Kilgore that assistant coaches were in the dark Friday but sent players messages to “stay together.”

Ben Krimmel of RealClearSports reported that a source close to the team said players were “glad to be moving on” and held a “high energy” workout Saturday morning.

Lonergan seeking ‘appropriate relief’
Lonergan responded to his dismissal via attorneys, alleging wrongful termination and mistreatment by the University.

The statement, released by attorneys John Dowd and Scott Tompsett, alleged that GW did not follow its own policy and broke the terms of Lonergan’s contract — which was extended in 2014 through 2021 — because he was denied administrative due process in the form of a hearing.

“[GW] terminated Coach Lonergan’s employment with almost five years remaining on his contract,” according to the statement. “He cooperated fully with the University’s Title IX review. The University never identified to the Coach his accuser, much less the details and the substance of the anonymous accusations.”

The terms of GW’s Title IX policies were also broken, according to the statement.

“The University failed and refused to give Coach Lonergan written notice of the outcome of the Title IX review, which is required by the University’s own policy, and the University violated the confidentiality provisions of the policy by issuing a press release about the review,” according to the statement.

GW’s Title IX policy on sexual harassment requires that, upon completion of an administrative review or a formal hearing, both parties receive written notice of the outcome at the same time.

And the same Title IX policy’s section on confidentiality requires that when a consultation on a potential Title IX complaint takes place, the record of the parties involved will not be released to anyone except select officials without that party first receiving written notice.

There is no provision about the public release of information in Title IX complaints during the process of an administrative review or a formal hearing in GW’s Title IX policy on sexual harassment. The statement does not make clear which of the processes Lonergan was subject to or if a Title IX investigation led to his dismissal.

A July release by the University specifically mentioned a Title IX review would be conducted in response to the allegations printed in The Post, but the University’s formal announcement Saturday included no mention of sexual harassment allegations or Title IX.

Lonergan was compensated a total of $797,446 in fiscal year 2015 — the eighth-highest amount paid to anyone by the University that year, according to the University’s tax filings.

New details emerge
As players and fans reacted to the news of Lonergan’s departure, more information on the investigation that led to his firing seeped out.

CBS Sports reported Friday night that the legal firm Saul Ewing — the outside counsel GW brought in to assist in its investigation — interviewed several players, Lonergan’s staff and athletic department employees on multiple occasions.

Those interviews not only confirmed “disparaging comments Lonergan made about other players on the team,” but revealed that comments were also made about at least one opposing player.

“Per a source, one of the questions asked to GW players was if Lonergan referred to former Seton Hall guard Derrick Gordon as ‘the gay kid,’” CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander wrote. “Players confirmed that had happened.”

Gordon — the first openly gay NCAA Division I men’s basketball player — played for A-10 foe Massachusetts from 2013-2015 before transferring to Seton Hall.

During the investigation, Lonergan led the team on an international trip to play in exhibition games. The team — made up of seven new players, six of whom are freshmen — traveled to Japan in mid-August.

And last week, Lonergan attended at least two town halls about the search for GW’s next president, tweeting that the sessions were “very important to the future of our program.”

Lonergan’s legacy
Lonergan joined the Colonials in the spring of 2011 after six seasons at Vermont, with intentions of bringing GW’s men’s basketball program to new heights.

After two losing seasons, Lonergan led the Colonials to an 11-game turnaround and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014, attracting stronger recruits and more national exposure.

“I’ve been very, very selective in my career moves and when I came here, this is where I wanted to be and this is where I want to finish my career,” Lonergan told the Hatchet in March 2014 after receiving a contract extension through the 2020-21 season.

The Bowie, Md. native guided GW to its winningest stretch in school history over the past three seasons, with a total of 74 victories, including three straight postseason appearances and 20-win seasons for just the second time in program history.

In 2015-2016, the Colonials earned their first national ranking in 10 years after defeating then-No. 6 Virginia at home last fall. The team went on to earn the 2016 NIT Championship, its first-ever postseason title, under Lonergan’s direction.

During Lonergan’s five-year tenure, 13 men’s basketball players transferred out of the program, including 12 in the past four years. That total is the third most among Atlantic 10 teams, behind Duquesne with 15 and Fordham with 14 transfers during that same time period.

Program moving forward
With the Colonials’ first regular-season game of 2016-2017 scheduled for Nov. 11, GW has a short time to select an interim head coach.

Associate head coach Hajj Turner, assistant coach Carmen Maciariello and strength and conditioning coach Matt Johnson were all active on Twitter Saturday morning before the official announcement was made, posting several photos and messages about the players’ morning workout on the National Mall.

ESPN basketball insider Jeff Goodman said that based on the nature of the dismissal, it’s unclear whether members of Lonergan’s coaching staff will stay at GW or be given the interim coaching job.

“It depends whether the assistant was involved in some of the behavior — and also whether they told the truth or lied during the investigation,” Goodman said in an email. “It will be interesting to see if they keep it in-house or try and look for someone on the outside.”

And when it comes to recruiting new players, Goodman said GW had taken a hit even before Saturday’s announcement.

“I actually think it’s probably hurt the program more since The Washington Post story came out during the summer,” Goodman said. “Other schools recruiting against GW are making sure the parents and even the recruits are well-aware of what was going on with Lonergan and how he treated people.”

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