Former NWSL coach Craig Harrington received a two-year suspension from the league in January for his inappropriate conduct and sexual comments toward players.
Just weeks later, he was hired by a Chicago youth club as the director of coaching, The Athletic reported Friday.
While Harrington has since been fired by the youth club, that he was hired at all exposes the continued cracks in the systems meant to ensure player safety at all levels of soccer, even in the wake of the NWSL’s wide-reaching misconduct investigations.
The NWSL’s misconduct report outlined misconduct allegations against Harrington, who served as head coach of the Utah Royals in 2020, and as an assistant coach for the Chicago Red Stars in the previous two seasons.
In the report, two NWSL players recalled an instance at a bar in which an intoxicated Harrington made sexual advances toward them and said, “I need to have sex with someone tonight who’s not my wife.” He also made comments on more than one occasion about players’ looks and bodies, the report stated.
The former coach denied such allegations, stating that he “never made comments about players’ physical attractiveness and never sexualized players.” The NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigative team, however, “did not find his denials to be credible when viewed against the accounts of multiple other witnesses,” according to the report.
The NWSL handed down a two-year suspension for Harrington, which banned him from coaching in the league until at least January 2025.
Soon after the suspension, youth club Chicago Empire FC hired Harrington “as an independent contractor” in late January. In the hiring process, the club obtained a “clean NCSI (National Center for Safety Initiatives) background check and certification of his U.S. Center for SafeSport training,” as well as confirmation that his coaching licenses were in good standing with the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Illinois Youth Soccer Association, director of operations Matt Tunis told The Athletic.
On April 25, Empire FC received notice from the Illinois Youth Soccer Association that Harrington’s membership had been suspended, at which point the club terminated his contract, Tunis said.
“At no time since February has Mr. Harrington been listed on either the SafeSport or U.S. Soccer risk management list of ineligible, suspended or disciplined individuals,” Tunis continued in his statement to The Athletic. “Nonetheless, Chicago Empire FC’s top priority is the safety and well-being of its players and staff.”
However, U.S. Soccer confirmed to The Athletic that Harrington was added to the federation’s risk management list following the NWSL’s announcement of his suspension in January.
Chicago Red Stars general manager Michelle Lomnicki knew of Harrington’s role with youth club Chicago Empire FC. The club fired her Friday for failing to inform club leadership of the information.