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Report: Lonergan hired as men’s basketball head coach

University of Vermont men's basketball head coach Mike Lonergan. Photo courtesy University of Vermont

Mike Lonergan, the six-year head coach at the University of Vermont, will likely take over as head men’s basketball coach at GW, Comcast SportsNet’s Chick Hernandez is reporting.

The men’s program has been searching for a head coach since Karl Hobbs was let go April 25 after a decade in the position. The University has declined to comment on the reason behind Hobbs’s departure, but said it intends to honor his contract in full.

University spokeswoman Candace Smith said she was not aware GW hired a new coach when reached Thursday evening. The incoming athletic director Patrick Nero, Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak and current athletic director Jack Kvancz did not return a request for comment.

Lonergan has ties to newly announced GW Athletic Director Patrick Nero, who served as Commissioner of the America East Conference, the league that counts Vermont among its members.

The sports reporter for the The Burlington Free Press said he spoke with the UVM athletic director Bob Corran Thursday, “who said Mike Lonergan has not contacted him with a resignation yet.”

Though the short list of candidates was never formally released, Lonergan beat out a field that included University of Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley, American University coach Jeff Jones and University of Washington assistant coach Raphael Chillious.

“He’s the total package. He understands how to recruit, he understands how to develop talent, and he understands how to get those guys playing their best,” Steve Howes, men’s basketball head coach at Catholic University said. Howes was an assistant coach on Lonergan’s staff when he was at the helm of Catholic’s basketball program.

Lonergan leaves Vermont as the coach with the third best record in program history, boasting a 126-68, .649 record. During the 2010-11 season, the Catamounts, who were predicted in pre-season polls to finish fifth in the America East, captured the league title, qualifying for the NIT and earning a 23-9 record. It was the program’s fourth straight season of at least 23 victories and earned Lonergan his second honor as America East Coach of the Year.

In the 2009-2010 season, Lonergan led Vermont to its fourth-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, falling to Syracuse in the first round. The Catamounts’ 25 wins in that season tied the school’s single-season win record.

“Mike really understands how to recruit to the institution that he’s at. Once he gets those players in, his teams have always played very hard and very fundamentally sound. And that’s been the basis of his success,” Howes said. “His outlook has been the same everywhere he’s been. He’s working to get his teams into the NCAA tournament. I think if you look back at his track record, he’s done that. His teams have consistently improved in season and peaked at the right times. I think he’s a perfect candidate for GW.”

Prior to coaching at Vermont, Lonergan served as the head men’s basketball coach at Catholic for 12 seasons. He lead Catholic to seven straight NCAA Division III tournament appearances, nine overall, finishing his career with a 251-88 (.740) record.

From 1998-2004, while at Catholic, Lonergan was the only men’s basketball coach in the nation to win a regular season conference title each year. And from 1998-2002, he was also the only men’s basketball coach in the nation to lead a team to an NCAA Sweet Sixteen each season.

Lonergan will take helm of the Colonials as they come off of their best season in the past four years, with 17-14 overall record and a 10-6 mark in Atlantic 10 play. It was good enough for a tie for fourth place in the final conference standings, but GW closed the season on a down note, losing in the first round of the conference tournament to 12th seeded Saint Joseph’s.

“Coach Lonergan’s teams have always played with great effort and intensity. He really gets the guys to buy in to playing defensively,” Howes said, adding, “I think coach has always had a tremendous offensive mind. I think he’s very good at identifying mismatches on the offensive end and taking advantage of those.”

A key decision that will fall on Lonergan’s shoulders in his new role will be hiring his coaching staff, made even more important by GW’s incoming recruiting class. That class, considered to be the best Hobbs brought in during his tenure at GW, includes 6-foot-8 center Erik Copes, widely regarded as Hobbs’s best-ever recruit.

Copes signed a national letter of intent to play at GW, one that the University would have to release him from if the high school senior were to matriculate at another institution without losing a year of NCAA eligibility.  The 6-foot-8 center has yet to decide what course of action he will take, but his decision will likely be influenced by associate head coach Roland Houston, a seven-year veteran at the University and Copes’s uncle. Houston is still on the University’s payroll, as incoming-athletic director Patrick Nero said it would be up to the new head coach to determine his staff.

Lonergan spent the 2004-05 season as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland, and prior to his stint at Catholic, he worked as an assistant coach at Colgate University. Originally from Bowie, Md., Lonergan graduated from Catholic in 1988.

“I think he would be a tremendous hire at GW,” Howes said, “and it would be great to see the Smith Center back alive again, and see winning basketball there.”

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