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Mark Bradley

Steve Masiello: From hot item to cautionary tale

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Steve Masiello, shown coaching Manhattan against Louisville. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Steve Masiello, shown coaching Manhattan against Louisville. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Twenty-four hours ago, Steve Masiello had a job and was poised to take a better one. At the moment he has neither, having seen an offer from South Florida rescinded and having been placed on leave by Manhattan. All of this because he didn’t graduate from the University of Kentucky. (Full disclosure: I’m a UK grad.)

The immediate point of reference is George O’Leary, who after leaving Georgia Tech for Notre Dame in December 2001 was found to have embellished his resume. But O’Leary never claimed to be a college grad when he wasn’t; his sin was in saying he’d played football at New Hampshire and saying he’d completed his master’s degree at Stony Brook when he hadn’t done either.

O’Leary was, however, a college grad. Masiello isn’t. In college coaching, having that diploma is a big deal. (O’Leary now coaches Central Florida, not to be confused with South Florida.) It’s so big a deal that Manhattan, in announcing Masiello had been placed on leave, offered no support for the coach that only yesterday it was desperate to keep.

From the statement: “Masiello is currently in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky. Manhattan College has placed Masiello on leave while he completes this process with the university.”

If it’s determined that Masiello didn’t graduate from Kentucky — and various UK spokespeople have told various outlets he didn’t — there seems no way Manhattan can keep him, which would put an abrupt halt to a career that only yesterday was hurtling along the ol’ fast track. Last week coached Manhattan to a near-upset of Louisville, which is the reigning NCAA champ and is coached by Rick Pitino, who when coaching the Knicks had made Masiello a ball boy and who brought him to Lexington as a walk-on. Watching that NCAA tournament game, you knew Masiello would soon be bound for bigger and better, and so he was. Until he wasn’t.

You know the hustling little guy who gets into the game at the end of blowouts and is implored by the home crowd to “Shoooot”? That was Masiello as a Wildcat. He’d gone on to work as an assistant under Shawn Finney, who’d been on Tubby Smith’s Kentucky staff after Pitino left to coach the Celtics, at Tulane, and then at Manhattan and then for five years under Pitino at Louisville. Then Masiello became Manhattan’s head coach in 2011 and, bang on cue, made the Jaspers winners.

At 36 and carrying the Pitino imprimatur, Masiello had become a Hot Item. Today he’s all but toxic, at least in the college game. At the moment he was to take a giant step upward, a lie more than a decade old yanked him down. It’s sad, yes, but it’s more stupid than sad.

O’Leary was front-page news across the country in December 2001. Was Masiello, then a first-year assistant at Manhattan, not reading the papers? Couldn’t he have taken steps to finish his degree or, failing that, change his resume? He got caught in a lie, but it was a lie that could have been fixed. It will take a good long while to fix his career now.

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