Mike Lonergan and George Washington University have settled a legal dispute stemming from the dismissal of the men’s basketball coach by the school nearly a year ago in the wake of allegations that he had verbally abused players. The agreement was announced Wednesday afternoon in a joint statement.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Lonergan’s attorney, Andy Phillips, issued a statement that read in part: “Coach Lonergan is pleased that the dispute regarding the terms of his departure from George Washington University could be resolved amicably.”
According to Phillips, Lonergan cannot talk about the settlement publicly. Lonergan had nearly five years left on his contract when he was fired.
Lonergan hired Phillips’s firm, Clare Locke LLP, in February and had retained at least one other law firm before Clare Locke.
After his firing last Sept. 17, attorneys for Lonergan said in a statement issued the next day that he would “seek appropriate relief” from the university for “wrongful termination and treatment.”
Lonergan, 51, compiled a 97-70 record in five seasons at GW. The Colonials reached the NCAA tournament in 2014 and the National Invitation Tournament twice, including winning the tournament championship in 2016 — his final season, as it turned out.
But Lonergan’s relationship with Athletic Director Patrick Nero, who hired him away from Vermont in 2011, grew increasingly fractious by 2015, players, coaches and athletic department employees acknowledged. At the end of the 2014-15 season, the two men were called in by university administrators for a meeting that ended with the school sending Lonergan a formal letter telling him they had found no reason to formally charge him with any wrongdoing in regard to his players but that they intended to embed an associate athletic director, Ed Scott, with the team during the upcoming season.
In the summer of 2016, The Washington Post began investigating allegations that Lonergan verbally and emotionally abused players, which had led to a spate of transfers. Thirteen players transferred from GW during Lonergan’s five seasons, including three in each of his last four. After the story was published, GW hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation. The results of that investigation led to his firing.
Lonergan, a native of Bowie, Md., who attended Archbishop Carroll High and Catholic University, has an overall coaching record of 474-226. He began his coaching career with 12 years at Catholic, where he won the Division III national title in 2001. He went 126-68 in six seasons at Vermont before returning home to Washington to take over at GW.
In March 2014, he signed a contract extension that would pay him $500,000 per year through 2021. On the day the extension was announced, Nero said: “Mike has succeeded in bringing high-quality young men to GW, and we are proud of how they developed both on and off the court. He has done everything we have asked of him in building a strong community around our team, and our alumni, students and fans in Washington, D.C., and around the world have responded with tremendous support for our program.”
Things apparently went downhill from there between Nero and Lonergan. As part of the settlement, the school and Lonergan issued a joint statement Wednesday in which neither side backed away from their initial positions. GW denied Lonergan’s claims that he had been wrongfully terminated and said it had no comment on the veracity of media reports about what occurred leading to Lonergan’s firing. The statement repeated the fact that Lonergan had filed suit for wrongful termination and for defamation of him professionally. It went on to talk about the “amicable” settlement and Lonergan’s contributions to the university.