Two-and-a-half months after saying it would launch an investigation into allegations of her mistreatment of players, Loyola fired women’s basketball coach Sheryl Swoopes on Sunday night.
Her departure was far more quiet than the en masse transfer of 15 players, total, from her final two seasons as Ramblers coach. Loyola announced the Hall of Fame former player’s firing in a three-sentence statement, making the decision public at a curious time: after 5 p.m. Sunday, in the middle of a three-day holiday weekend, when fewer follow the news.
“Sheryl Swoopes is no longer serving as the women’s basketball coach at Loyola University Chicago,” athletic director Steve Watson said in a statement. “A search for her replacement will begin immediately. Loyola thanks Sheryl for her service to the women’s basketball program.”
Watson wouldn’t comment further Sunday, an athletic department spokesperson said. Swoopes learned of the decision shortly before it was made public, sources said.
“In response to the inquires made about the investigation, Sheryl is pleased and comfortable with its outcomes,” Swoopes spokesperson Kimberly Blackwell said in a statement. “She is disappointed, however, with the actions that have followed. In respect of the (July 4) holiday, we plan to have Sheryl’s voice heard at an appropriate time.”
Loyola announced its investigation — by the university, not the athletic department — on April 15. It eventually hired the law firm Dykema to assist.
Five players left after a 6-25 season in Swoopes’ second season, 2014-15, and 10 more after a 14-16 mark past year. Some former players and managers complained of psychological distress caused by Swoopes and her staff, sources told the Sun-Times.
Former player Cate Soane told the Sun-Times that she was “humiliated” and “belittled” by Swoopes and her staff, making her “subject to a lot of inappropriate conduct.” After leaving Loyola following the 2013-14 season, she appealed to the NCAA to waive the mandatory redshirt season for transfers, saying Swoopes created a hostile environment.
She said the coach mocked her — and encouraged teammates to do the same — and called her disloyal. The NCAA denied her waiver request.
Reached Sunday night, Soane — who later played briefly at UIC — was pleased by the decision.
“No other student will go through what I had to go through,” she said.
Soane never spoke with investigators; they merely exchanged messages while she was traveling.
“I thought something was definitely not right when I was playing,” she said. “I didn’t agree with what was going on, and that was why I transferred.”
In late May, sources confirmed another allegation of former players — that the staff took away their laptops and schoolbooks at times on road trips to force them to focus on basketball.
In June, Swoopes released a denial through her spokesperson, who was unaffiliated with Loyola. She said that there had been “accusations and false attacks made of my character and coaching.”
Loyola hired her three years ago with little coaching experience beyond a 2010 stint as an assistant at Mercer Island (Wash.) High School.
Her playing reputation is almost unmatched in the history of the sport. She was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in April and will be enshrined in September.
Swoopes won three Olympic gold medals, four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets and an NCAA title at Texas Tech. To commemorate its 20th season, the WNBA named her one of the league’s best 20 players ever last month.
Finding a replacement — and quickly — is critical for Loyola. July is one of the sport’s most critical recruiting months; evaluation periods run from July 6-12 and 23-29.
The Ramblers had signed three recruits and received four more verbal commitments for next season before the firing.
Swoopes had two assistants on staff, assistant Jeanine Wasielewski and recruiting coordinator Kesha Watson. The university did not specify their fate late Sunday.