George Washington University says it is bringing in outside counsel as part of an investigation into allegations against men's basketball coach Mike Lonergan.
In a statement released by a spokesman Thursday night, the school said that it is "undertaking a Title IX review" but that "some of the reported allegations go beyond the scope of Title IX."
The statement comes in response to a story posted earlier Thursday by The Washington Post that reported Lonergan routinely abused his players verbally and emotionally, creating an offensive environment and causing many of them to leave the program as a result.
"The university expects full cooperation and will not tolerate retaliation during the course of the investigation," the school said in a statement. "We will also continue to inform the student-athletes on our men's basketball team of the university's support and of the resources available to them."
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 that 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, 50, led the program to the NCAA tournament in 2014 and the NIT championship last season.
Lonergan's attorney, Scott Tompsett, provided this statement to ESPN on behalf of the coach on Thursday afternoon:
"The Washington Post article is full of lies and half-truths. For example, GWU administrators did not 'address concerns' with Coach Lonergan last year. Rather, they looked into allegations and after a thorough investigation, concluded that Coach Lonergan had not violated University policy and that no further action would be taken.
"The fact of the matter is that the anonymous accusations are not new and they are not true.
"Coach Lonergan has a well-earned reputation in the college basketball world as a coach who runs his program with integrity and respect. He has always been a champion of diversity and inclusion. Coach Lonergan celebrates those values. Coach Lonergan is proud of his team and its accomplishments both on and off the court. He will aggressively defend himself and his program against false and defamatory accusations."
Isaiah Armwood, who played for Lonergan at George Washington from 2012-14, defended the coach.
"My time with Lonergan was great," Armwood told ESPN. "He is an old-school coach who wants the best out of his players. Me and Lonergan bumped heads on different occasions for different reasons, but in my opinion he did not demean players using inappropriate language whatso ever. He was a very hard-nosed and straight forward coach. Someone who a good player would love to play for."
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said on ESPN's college basketball podcast on Wednesday that he has talked to Lonergan, who is a good friend of his.
"I grabbed him in Vegas and said how can I help you? He's a teacher and educator and intense guy too," Brey said. "He can't overreact. I said you can't get into a public contest of throwing barbs. But it's my alma mater and I'm disappointed in the administration that they could have handled this better. I'm close to the place and love the place. The guy has done a good job. He works his butt off and represents the place well. I just hope it works out and Mike continues to stay at GW. As an alum we're happy the way he's run the program."
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 athletic 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 the former player 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."
ESPN senior writer Andy Katz contributed to this report.