A Minor Offense

Steve Masiello lost out on a job and might be fired from his current one because of an ethical misstep, but it probably won't cost him his career. (USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Masiello lost out on a job and might be fired from his current one because of an ethical misstep, but it probably won't cost him his career. (USA TODAY Sports)

Steve Masiello has been placed on leave by Manhattan College because the University of South Florida, after a routine background examination, figured out that Masiello never graduated from Kentucky. Masiello was expected to sign a five-year contract worth more than $1 million per year. It’s unclear what Manhattan is going to do with him, and the 36-year-old hasn’t made any sort of public statement since the news broke, but, as of Wednesday night, he remains the Jaspers’ head basketball coach, though no one would be surprised if they fired him in the near future.

As fake résumé stories go, this doesn’t stand up to the hilariousness of the George O’Leary saga, where the five-day Notre Dame coach claimed to have earned three letters in football at the University of New Hampshire when, in reality, he didn’t play a single game for the Wildcats. He also lied about having a master’s in education from “NYU-Stony Brook University,” which isn’t even a real school. (He took a few grad classes at SUNY Stony Brook.) I’m not sure if O’Leary’s most heinous crime was having a fraudulent résumé, not knowing where he attended graduate school or failing to grasp what the “U” in the acronym for a university stands for.

Masiello’s story has more in common with Eddie Jordan’s. Rutgers hired Jordan in May of last year with both parties claiming he had graduated in 1977, when, as John Koblin reported for Deadspin and Jordan later admitted to ESPN, he actually came up a few credits short of earning his bachelor’s. Masiello was at Kentucky for four years — from the fall of 1997 to the summer of 2000 — and all indications are he accumulated a significant amount of credit-hours during that time. Rick Pitino left before Masiello’s senior year and claims Masiello was “on track to graduate.” (He also hired his ex-player as an assistant at Louisville.)

Masiello took an out-of-college job as an administrative assistant at Tulane in the fall of 2000. One assumes the deception started there, in the form of a mistake made by a 22-year-old who just wanted to be done with school and start his career. Masiello worked his way up the assistant coaching ladder at Manhattan, then Louisville before being offered the head job at Manhattan in 2011. Apparently no one thought to make sure he had his bachelor’s until the University of South Florida — which, by the way, is in Tampa, so: stones and glass houses on the false advertising front, USF — found he had been lying on his résumé for over a decade and rescinded their contract offer.

The irony of this is Masiello’s bachelor’s degree — or the one everyone assumed he had — had nothing to do with why USF wanted him in the first place. It’s a little silly that most schools require their coaches have four-year degrees. Universities like to pretend being a basketball coach is like being a teacher, but it’s not. (What do Bobby Knight and your average physics professor have in common?) The only relevant parts of Masiello’s résumé are that he worked under Pitino for six years and brought a mid-major to the NCAA tournament.

Unfortunately, Masiello’s been trapped in his lie since he took that Tulane gig. Sure, he could have informed one of his former employers that he didn’t actually graduate from Kentucky, but that would have put him at considerable risk of being fired and run out of the coaching profession. (Particularly when he was still an assistant and hadn’t yet established his reputation within the field.) He kept his lie alive on the off chance he could have a successful career without anyone noticing his mistake. He lost that gamble.

I think examining O’Leary’s dishonesty as compared to Jordan and Masiello’s is instructive. One guy just flatly made stuff up, and the other two were telling three-quarter truths. Jordan still claimed, even after the news about his lack of a degree came out, that he completed his studies in 1985 while he was a volunteer assistant at Rutgers, but didn’t register correctly, and so the credits never went through. This is believable enough. Masiello must have some kind of similar story. (If not, what was he doing at Kentucky for four years?) He almost got his degree, but not quite. This is a considerably tamer offense than having a fake master’s from a university you can’t even be bothered to remember the name of.

I don’t consider Masiello’s transgression, in the grand scheme of things, to be all that severe and, if history is any guide, neither will his future employer. He has some explaining and apologizing to do, and Manhattan might dismiss him, but this probably won’t cost him his career. O’Leary, following a spell with the Minnesota Vikings, has been at the University of Central Florida for the past 10 years, and Jordan stayed on at Rutgers even after his mini-scandal. Hell, Bruce Pearl is back coaching Division I basketball at Auburn after being banished from Tennessee and sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations. With stories like this, there is usually a round of dismayed takes and how-could-hes, but it eventually dies down and the former pariah comes back into the fold. The reality is, if you’re a talented coach and not a complete sociopath, there’s a job out there for you. Masiello will be harangued for a time, but he’ll end up on a bench somewhere soon enough, because he’s good at what he does.

3 thoughts on “A Minor Offense

  1. I fail to see how saying that you poccess a university degree, when in fact you do not, is a three-quarter truth. He could have left it off his resume, but by choosing to put in the degree that he did not have, makes him a liar!