Family of late rower files wrongful death lawsuit after son's suicide, allege verbal abuse went too far

Geoff Bond's defense team filed a lawsuit to dismiss the lawsuit

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Former University of California-San Diego men’s rowing coach Geoff Bond faces accusations of directing verbal abuse to athletes with at least one family saying their child died by suicide because of it.

Brian Lilly Jr., who was on the squad from 2019-2021 was 19 at the time when he died by suicide and his parents and his friend Parker Kinney told the Associated Press in a story published Wednesday they believed it was the result from Bond’s alleged verbal abuse.

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Brenda Lilly points to a photo of her son Brian Lilly Jr. competing in a regatta, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Easton, Connecticut. Brian Lilly Jr., 19, who committed suicide on Jan. 4, 2021, was a rower at University of California San Diego. 

Brenda Lilly points to a photo of her son Brian Lilly Jr. competing in a regatta, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Easton, Connecticut. Brian Lilly Jr., 19, who committed suicide on Jan. 4, 2021, was a rower at University of California San Diego.  (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

"This guy basically squashed Brian’s self-esteem, his threat to push Brian off the team. And I don’t need to have a sports psychologist in here to tell me how damaging that was," Brian Lilly Sr. said.

Brenda and Brian Lilly Sr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bond and the school, alleging the coach mistreated their son because he challenged the coach’s decision to allow a rower to remain on the team despite allegations of sexual misconduct against the athlete. Brian’s parents believe Bond verbally abused their son, and it led to his January 2021 suicide.

"I felt like they were trying to sweep the whole sexual assault allegations under the rug and a decent amount of kids had legitimate concerns about this, being like, ‘This is pretty messed up,’" Kinney told the AP. "A lot of kids didn't speak out about it. Brian did speak out about it, so Geoff retaliated against him. Brian's main concern was that this would harm the integrity of the team, which I agreed with."

Brian Lilly cries while speaking about his son, Brian Lilly Jr., during an interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Easton, Connecticut.

Brian Lilly cries while speaking about his son, Brian Lilly Jr., during an interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Easton, Connecticut. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

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Bond’s defense team filed a motion to dismiss the Lillys’ case, saying the coach hadn’t seen Brian Lilly Jr. for nine months prior to his death and the coach reached out during the pandemic lockdown period to see whether the rower would return to school in San Diego from the East Coast where he had been living.

Gary Champagne, who rowed for Bond at Cal as a freshman in 2002-03, defended the coach.

"I absolutely loved his style of coaching and feel it is a great fit for young college kids," Champagne told the AP.

Brenda and Brian Lilly look at photos of their son Brian Lilly Jr. in their Easton, Conn. home, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Brian Lilly Jr., 19, who committed suicide on Jan. 4, 2021, was a rower at University of California San Diego.

Brenda and Brian Lilly look at photos of their son Brian Lilly Jr. in their Easton, Conn. home, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Brian Lilly Jr., 19, who committed suicide on Jan. 4, 2021, was a rower at University of California San Diego. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

The Lillys say their son never had a history of mental illness before rowing at the school.

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UC San Diego declined to comment to the AP, citing pending litigation. Bond departed the school on Jan. 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.