Despite claiming Kentucky degree he never actually earned, Steve Masiello deserves opportunity to return to Manhattan, and not just because of his coaching talent. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)
No one ever wants to cover a story like this one. It is even worse when the subject is someone you know fairly well, even going so far as considering a friend in an industry where that word may not always get thrown around as often as the microphones and recorders that are thrust into the faces of coaches and players.
That explains the difficulty for yours truly in reporting the circumstances surrounding Steve Masiello, whom I have been privileged to get to know over his three years as the head coach at Manhattan College, most notably through 22 of the Jaspers' games this season, a campaign that saw Manhattan bring a MAAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth to Riverdale for the first time in a decade. Every experience with Masiello was always a pleasant one, and almost always concluded with a postgame handshake from the coach, who always made it a point to thank me; and everyone else for that matter, for coming out, indicating how much he appreciated the interest and support.
That last word is more operative than ever before after the events of the past 72 hours, a time period in which Masiello expedited what everyone who covered the Jaspers knew to be inevitable: His impending departure, which would call the University of South Florida its destination for the next five years, with a $6.2 million financial backing.
And then, in the words of King Louis XV of France: "Apres moi, le deluge."
In the span of roughly 12 hours, Masiello went from crown prince set to cash in on his breakout to the masses, a near-masterpiece that saw his Manhattan team battle a Louisville team coached by his mentor Rick Pitino; the same Louisville team that cut down the nets a year ago to celebrate its first national championship since 1986, before falling seven points short, to USF rescinding the contract due to an "undetected discrepancy" in Masiello's background check, which turned out to be the absence of a University of Kentucky degree the coach claimed he had. The rest, as anyone who has been following this story knows, is history.
Masiello's tenure at Manhattan may be much the same, with multiple sources reporting that the school officials who hold the fate of a 36-year-old man, one who just happens to be a really good basketball coach and model representative of its program, in its hands, are expected to determine their judgment sometime today. You can argue both sides of this issue until everyone is blue in the face, and each argument is justified.
On one end, Manhattan can fire Masiello for cause, using the embellishment on his resume as a basis for arguing that he defrauded his employer and therefore is not a man the school can trust to lead its men's basketball program. Across the court, so to speak, Manhattan can welcome him back with open arms, showing much-needed compassion to a man whose transgression; one that must not be overlooked considering its magnitude, is ultimately one in which the price of employment is a far too expensive cost to bear.
When you look at Steve Masiello, take everything into concern, not just his 60-39 record in three seasons at Manhattan, a school that had won only six games the year before he arrived in Riverdale, returning to a program he had assisted Bobby Gonzalez in building up to be the closest competition to Gonzaga among East Coast mid-majors and injecting a combination of youth, fresh air, and unbridled intensity into a team that desperately needed a jolt to erase five years of mediocrity after Barry Rohrssen could not maintain the success Gonzalez built before leaving for Seton Hall.
When you look at Masiello, also look past the incident that most of the world will unfortunately associate him with. Notice the little things that most people take for granted, like the strong bond with his players, sort of like the bond between an older and younger brother, or even a father to his young son. Everyone who put on a Manhattan uniform under Masiello has had nothing but positive things to say about him, a man who inspires by his actions just as much as his emotional pregame addresses. Look at his interactions with the fans, media, opposing teams and Manhattan community, embracing a fan base who embraced him just as strong, creating a group united in the same mission and sharing the same spirit.
Of course, there will still be a fair share of those who insist that Manhattan should cut its losses and sever ties with Masiello just for the sheer fact that he was ready to take the next flight to Tampa if the chain of events that happened did not, claiming that the coach was a fraud not for academic reasons, but for praising the school and saying "New York is where I want to be," then leaving for a larger paycheck. If you know anything about mid-major college basketball, you will know that such an argument does not hold up, because it is always a question of when; not if, a coach is ready to move on to a bigger challenge. It just so happened that Masiello was tossed a rope much sooner than some envisioned. You cannot fault a man for wanting to better himself and his family.
I digress. Back to the issue at hand here, if I may: Masiello is not the only one to have something like this stand in his way. Many have compared the fallout from the USF background check to the case of Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan last year, who was found to not have his degree either when he replaced Mike Rice in Piscataway. Jordan is working toward finishing his coursework at the present moment, and Masiello, who has no previous offenses of any kind, should be afforded the same opportunity.
Bruce Pearl has rebounded from a show-cause penalty to resurface at Auburn. Kelvin Sampson has recovered from his text message scandal at Indiana to land a job on the Houston Rockets' staff and appears to be the top candidate to take over at the University of Houston. Larry Eustachy apologized for his actions at a fraternity party, yet turned the page with successful tenures at Southern Mississippi and Colorado State. Even in college football, George O'Leary; who Masiello's situation draws the closest parallel to, got a second chance after lying on his resume in his attempt to leave Georgia Tech for Notre Dame, and is coaching at Central Florida.
The moral of the story here? All got second chances.
Steve Masiello should too.
Just because Masiello deserves his shot at redemption does not mean his actions are being condoned, because they are not. What he did was wrong, and given how well I know Masiello, there is no doubt in my mind he would be the first to tell someone that. Why he did not do this sooner is something that only he can explain, but this entire experience is something he can learn from while at the same time setting an example for student-athletes and those connected with Manhattan basketball to follow. If the school considers it necessary to teach him a lesson in why one should not be careless when it comes to matters such as this, so be it. If worst comes to worst, suspend him a few games to enforce your message.
Before this week, no one would ever suspect Steve Masiello of such conduct. There is no need to throw the book at someone for a first offense, and when you have acted the way he has, you deserve the benefit of the doubt. Return the favor that he has done for your basketball program, your athletic department, your college; not just this year, but the previous two that he was entrusted as its caretaker, and also the four he spent as a supporting cast member.
Think back to the excitement of Selection Sunday and the extravaganza held on campus that evening, one that saw the Jaspers mingling with media, fans and insiders alike, one in which Masiello entered to a standing ovation, accompanied by hugs and kisses to nearly everyone who came within his field of vision; and not just fleeting embraces either, these were interactions that lasted several seconds. Would someone respect a man who did not exude such an image? Probably not.
Take EVERYTHING Stephen Masiello has done for your program, both inside and outside the boundaries of Manhattan College. Everything he has embodied, everything he continues to represent. Actions speak louder than words, whether they are spoken words, or words printed on a sheet of paper.
Masiello acted like more than a coach. He acted as a teacher, a parent, an inspiration; and most importantly, a beacon of support for a group of people that desperately needed one.
Now it is time for Manhattan College to turn around and do the same for him. Again, the consequences can, and most likely will be severe, but the point remains the same.
Pay it forward for a man who gave every last drop of blood, sweat and tears to raise the profiles and standing of everyone he came into contact with.
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Steve Masiello, as far-fetched as it may sound after the last three days, does as well.
Hopefully Manhattan College feels the same way.