NC Courage fires coach amid past allegations of sexual misconduct

Assistant coach Sean Nahas will take over as the team’s interim coach for the remainder of the National Women’s Soccer League season

Former NC Courage coach Paul Riley hugs player Crystal Dunn following the team's win against the Chicago Red Stars in the 2019 NWSL championship game. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

CARY — The North Carolina Courage have fired coach Paul Riley after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light Thursday in a published report by The Athletic.

The investigative report by Meg Linehan quotes former players Sinead Farrelly and Meleana Shim — along with more than a dozen others that have been on teams coached by Riley over the past decade — accusing him of a pattern of sexual coercion and other inappropriate behavior.

Riley, a 58-year-old native of Liverpool, England, has been with the Courage since it moved to North Carolina from Western New York in 2017.

Assistant coach Sean Nahas will take over as the team’s interim coach for the remainder of the National Women’s Soccer League season, effective immediately.

“The NC Courage supports the players who have come forward and we commend them for bravely sharing their stories,” a statement issued by the Courage’s players, staff and principal owner Steve Malik said.

“The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive, and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport. As previously stated, players and staff are encouraged to report any inappropriate behavior in accordance with NWSL policy as we prioritize efforts to maintain the highest professional standards of conduct throughout our organization.”

Riley coached the Philadelphia Independence of the defunct Women’s Professional Soccer and the New York Fury and Portland Thorns of the NWSL before joining the team that would eventually become the Courage. The two-time NWSL Coach of the Year, who led the Courage to the 2018 and ’19 league championships, has denied the allegations, calling them “completely untrue” in an email responding to questions submitted to him by The Athletic.

The incidents detailed by Farrelly and Shim allegedly took place while Riley was with Portland, which conducted an investigation into the coach while he was with the team and reported the findings to the league.

“While the findings did not show unlawful activity, they did uncover clear violations of our company policies. Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley,” the Thorns said in a statement.

“The article is a difficult read and there are some horrifying revelations. We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and, more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space.”

The NWSL Players Association, which is currently negotiating what would be its first collective bargaining agreement with the league, issued a statement Thursday, saying the union stands with players “who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown” — and called on the league to enact measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.

In response to the situation, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird issued a statement saying she is “shocked and disgusted by the allegations,” adding that the league plans to initiate background checks and additional screening for team staff, as well as installing a new anonymous system for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The Courage is currenty 8-6-5 and in third place heading into Friday’s match against the Washington Spirit at WakeMed Soccer Park.

Interim coach Nahas had previously been considered a front-runner for the coaching job of the NWSL expansion franchise in Los Angeles this summer. But the job with the new team — known as Angel City FC — instead went to Freya Coombe, who was hired in late August.