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George Washington's verbally abusive coach is driving players away, per report

Mike Lonergan has been successful on the court at George Washington, but his abusive language has created a hostile environment that's sent athletes packing, according to a Washington Post report.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

George Washington head basketball coach Mike Lonergan reportedly made abusive and homophobic language as commonplace at his practices as free throws, leading to an exodus of transfers and a long list of complaints from his student-athletes. A Washington Post investigation published on Thursday delved into Lonergan's combative coaching style and the university's ineffective attempts at stopping it.

Multiple players, who spoke with the Post on the condition of anonymity to protect themselves from reprisal, detailed the emotional abuse they suffered as part of the Colonial basketball team.

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

Lonergan has lost 14 players to transfer in his five seasons as the team's head coach, though it hasn't impacted his on-court success. The Colonials earned an NCAA Tournament bid in 2014 and received NIT invites in 2015 and 2016. They won the NIT this past spring, defeating Valparaiso in the title game.

However, those achievements may not be enough to sweep aside the disturbing accusations the Post uncovered in its report. Their story details several complaints made to university officials, including Athletic Director Patrick Nero and Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad. Those reports alleged verbal abuse going above and beyond the normal tough love that pervades a high-level basketball practice. According to his players, Lonergan's language was hostile and, at times, homophobic.

When the school attempted to clean up Lonergan's act, student-athletes say his anger turned not only to his team, but to George Washington's administration as well.

Five current and former players said Lonergan told players Nero requested the practice tapes so he could masturbate while viewing them in his office. The players said Lonergan also told them Nero had engaged in a sexual relationship with a member of the team. Players said they found those comments to be shocking and offensive, with no grounding in reality.


"I was in the gym, shooting," one player said. "He comes up to me, starts talking about the AD. ‘Can you believe he thinks he's going to get me? Don't worry, I have one of the best lawyers. I know what he wants.' . . . He would say it in a very serious tone."

Lonergan, along with several other university officials, declined interview requests for the Post's story. He had previously denied the allegations against him in an email sent out to players.

"I will not respond to anonymous, unfounded allegations. 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."

While reports of Lonergan's abuse were relayed to Muhammad, the university chose not to report any federal Title IX violations despite the potential for sexual harassment claims related to the coach's alleged homophobic language. Instead, the matter was dealt with internally. While ineffective, the Post reports this strategy may not have been a violation of federal regulations as long as the complaints were investigated.

Even so, it's a black eye on a program trending back towards mid-major power despite the tumult slowly boiling to its surface in five years under Mike Lonergan.