Almost three months after Loyola launched an independent investigation of its women’s basketball program and its coaching staff, the university announced on July 3 that Sheryl Swoopes will no longer serve as the women’s basketball head coach.
The search for a new coach will “begin immediately,” according to a statement released by Loyola’s Athletic Department.
“Loyola thanks Sheryl for her service to the women’s basketball program,” said Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson in a statement, which did not reveal whether she left on her own accord or was forced to leave.
Following the announcement, Swoopes’ representatives sent The PHOENIX a statement saying she’s disappointed with the actions after the investigation.
“In response to the inquires made about the investigation, Sheryl is pleased and comfortable with its outcomes,” said Kimberly Blackwell, a representative for Swoopes.” She is disappointed, however, with the actions that have followed. In respect of the holiday, we plan to have Sheryl’s voice heard at an appropriate time.”
During Swoopes’ three year tenure in Chicago, her teams held a 45-62 overall record, including 19-35 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Swoopes had no prior head coaching experience before taking the lead of Loyola’s women’s basketball program. Her only coaching experience was serving as the girl’s basketball assistant coach for Mercer Island High School in Washington in 2010.
Deputy Director of Athletics Jermaine Truax announced the investigation into Swoopes and her program on April 15 after The PHOENIX reported that 10 of Swoopes’ 12 returning players had quit the team or asked to be released from their scholarships, many due to alleged mistreatment by Swoopes and her staff. Those departures included redshirt junior standouts Taylor Johnson and Taylor Manuel in what turned out to be a mass exodus just one year after five players departed the team prematurely. The details of the investigation have not been disclosed.
Two players on the 2015-16 roster, who had requested anonymity, told The PHOENIX in April that Swoopes had a tendency to “cross the line” when dealing with certain players and their personal lives. Those players said Swoopes micromanaged their lives outside of basketball and shared personal information about the players with the team, recruits and members of the Athletic Department.
Other allegations detailed Swoopes and her staff’s humiliation of players for their running or shooting styles, comments on physical appearances and pitting of players against one another. Swoopes fostered an uncomfortable environment with a general lack of respect and professionalism, according to multiple players.
In April, Truax sent The PHOENIX a statement detailing what would be an “independent” investigation coming from outside Loyola’s Athletic Department.
On May 29, The PHOENIX reported that the investigation — conducted by Dykema, a corporate law firm with a Chicago office — may not have been as independent as described. Three players told The PHOENIX that Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson texted them to set up meetings with two Dykema litigation attorneys, Terrence Burns and Daniel Noland. Burns and Noland didn’t return phone calls or emails.
Although the extent of Watson’s involvement in the investigation was unclear, one player told The PHOENIX that no members of the Athletic Department were present during her meetings with Burns and Noland. Watson declined to comment on his alleged involvement in investigation, which was still ongoing at that time.
While the players’ original allegations involved verbal mistreatment and mental manipulation, The PHOENIX reported the first allegations of physical mistreatment on May 29.
During the 2014-15 season, Swoopes threw a water cup at a player in rage, according to multiple sources who witnessed the incident and asked to remain anonymous. That player, who transferred after the 2014-15 season, confirmed it happened but declined to comment.
The following season, assistant coach Mahogany Green forcefully threw a basketball at sophomore guard Tashawnya Edwards after she made a mistake in practice during a team drill, according to four players who witnessed the incident. Edwards, who is one of the 10 departing players from this season, confirmed the incident, but declined to comment.
Green, who left Loyola’s program on May 25 to take an assistant coaching position with Colgate University’s women’s basketball team, denied the allegations.
“[I] don’t remember that happening,” Green told The PHOENIX. “I don’t abuse players … [I’ve] been coaching for 15 years. I do my job, and I do my job well. That’s not in my character.”
Green confirmed she decided to leave Loyola’s program on her own. She said she had no comment on Swoopes or the investigation of Loyola’s women’s basketball program.
Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time WNBA champion. She was also honored as WNBA MVP three times, the most in the league’s 19 seasons. On April 4, Swoopes was elected to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, along with NBA greats Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article included a statement from Swoopes’ representatives that read, “‘In response to the inquires made about the investigation, Sheryl is comfortable with its outcomes,’ said Kimberly Blackwell, a representative for Swoopes. ‘She is disappointed, however, with the actions that have followed. In respect of the holiday, we plan to have Sheryl’s voice heard at an appropriate time.'” Swoopes’ representatives later sent The PHOENIX an amended version of the statement, which has been updated in this article.