By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
In the wake of a background check discrepancy nixing a deal between Steve Masiello and the University of South Florida, the Manhattan head coach has been placed on leave by the Riverdale school while he is in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky.
“Masiello is currently in the process of reviewing his degree status with the University of Kentucky,” the school said in a statement. “Manhattan College has placed Masiello on leave while he completes this process with the University.”
Sources told SNY.tv that the rest of the coaching staff, which includes associate head coach Matt Grady, will run the team in Masiello’s absence.
Last Friday, before the South Florida story broke, Manhattan AD Noah LeFevre told the New York Post he expected Masiello to remain the Manhattan coach going forward.
“I’m confident [he’ll stay] because we’re dedicated in doing everything that we can to have him be a member of the Manhattan community for many years to come,” LeFevre told the paper. “I fully anticipate coach being our coach well into the future, meaning beyond his existing contract.”
But that was before news broke early Wednesday morning that the 5-year, $6.2 million contract Masiello and South Florida had agreed to was axed after a previously undetected discrepancy in the background check came to light. Later Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported that the discrepancy was that he never got his degree from UK as indicated on Manhattan and Louisville’s official websites.
Masiello was a walk-on in Lexington from 1996-2000, first under Rick Pitino and then Tubby Smith.
The White Plains native started his coaching career as an administrative assistant at Tulane in 2000, was hired as an assistant by Bobby Gonzalez at Manhattan in 2001, then as an assistant by Pitino at Louisville in 2005 before accepting his first head-coaching position at Manhattan in 2011.
Masiello, 36, became one of the nation’s elite young assistants and a top-notch recruiter before taking over a Jaspers program that was in disarray when he arrived. In his three years at Manhattan, Masiello is 60-39, including 25-8 with a MAAC Tournament crown this season. The Jaspers lost to Pitino and Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last week, 71-64, in a game they led by three points at the final media timeout.
Manhattan’s statement said it will issue further comment as soon as the expedited process is complete. The Jaspers have four Class of 2014 commitments in Samson Akilo, Samson Usilo, Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman. Masiello also has a pledge from 2015 Spring Valley (N.Y.) High School point guard Rickey McGill Jr.
In less than 24 hours, Masiello went from on the cusp of getting a considerable professional upgrade to having job status and reputation called into question. With that, a slew of opinions on the topic came out during the day on Wednesday, with some comparing this situation to that of Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan.
After Jordan took over in Piscataway in the wake of the Mike Rice fiasco, it was revealed that he never earned his undergraduate degree. Jordan began taking classes at the school soon thereafter in an attempt to rectify that.
“I’d take him back,” former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun told ESPN New York. “We have a semi-parallel situation at Rutgers, where (Eddie Jordan) didn’t have his degree and they kept him. Why did they hire him in the first place? Why was Manhattan going to extend their offer to Coach Masiello? Because they want him. He’s the same guy he was before and he made an error on his resume and he’s going to have to fix that up and get his degree.”
“From what I’ve seen of Steve Masiello, he’s a very, very good coach and because he doesn’t have two or three credits, is he not going to be a good coach?” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told The Michael Kay Show on Wednesday afternoon. “He’s going to be. If I was an AD somewhere and I had an opening, I’d hire him and say, ‘You gotta get your degree this summer or by next year and if you do that, you’ll still be the coach here and if you don’t, you won’t be the coach here.'”
In speaking to ESPN, Pitino and Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich seemed unaware that Masiello had not graduated from Kentucky. It’s important to note that Pitino left Lexington after Masiello’s freshman year to take over as head coach of the Boston Celtics.
“If it’s accurate, I’m shocked by it,” said Pitino, whose Cardinals are preparing to take Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday evening. “I had no idea. I left the previous year, and he was on track to graduate.”
“I knew Rick was comfortable with him,”Jurich said. “He played for Rick, and Rick knew all about his background.”