Ryan Black commentary: Steve Masiello learning lessons the hard way

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 28, 2014 

Ryan Black

AUBURN, Ala. — Everyone makes mistakes.

Some miscues, of course, are bigger than others.

The key is learning from them to avoid the same outcome in the future. At times, people are able to take in these lessons firsthand. In other instances, people do so by observing the errors of others.

So one would think Steve Masiello would have remembered the name George O’Leary.

O’Leary became infamous for his short tenure as Notre Dame’s football coach in 2001 — all five days of it. The reason for his quick departure? He falsified his resume. O’Leary said he received a master’s degree from New York University in 1972. Didn’t happen. While he was a student at NYU, he left without a diploma in hand. Further, O’Leary said he earned three letters in football at New Hampshire. That was three stars too many, as the school later said O’Leary never even played a game.

Which brings us to Masiello.

The former Rick Pitino assistant became a hot coaching commodity after his Manhattan Jaspers pushed the Louisville Cardinals — coincidentally, the team coached by his mentor — to the brink in the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling 71-64 last week.

Five days after the near-upset, Masiello was set to become the next coach at South Florida, agreeing to a five-year deal worth more than $1 million per season. Late Tuesday night, word came that the deal was off. During its background check, the university found that Masiello’s resume wasn't on the level. He claimed to have graduated from Kentucky in 2000 with a degree in communications. The university later revealed that Masiello was a student from the fall of 1996 to the summer of 2000, but he never finished.

Once South Florida removed him from consideration for its job, Manhattan did the same, temporarily stripping Masiello of his coaching duties. The school placed him on leave Wednesday as it reviews his case.

And to think it was all good just a week ago.

This leads to “Blatantly Obvious Question No. 1:" Why?

Why would a coach who seemingly had so much going for him lie about his past?

As it was, he was living a fairly charmed existence.

He began as a ball boy with the New York Knicks during Pitino’s tenure there in the late 1980s. He then played under Pitino at Kentucky and was a member of the Wildcats’ 1998 national championship squad coached by Tubby Smith. Once he left Lexington, it didn’t take him long to find work, serving as an assistant at Tulane and Manhattan. He rejoined Pitino in 2006, becoming a part of Louisville’s coaching staff. In 2011, he was given his first head coaching job, returning to Manhattan to take over the Jaspers’ program. Including this year’s 25-8 record, Masiello has a 60-39 overall mark in three seasons.

But that likely won’t help him save his job. Only evidence to counter the claims he’s a fraud will do that.

Cue “Blatantly Obvious Question No. 2”: How long did he think he’d be able to get away with this?

Perhaps the vetting procedures at Tulane, Manhattan and Louisville weren’t strong enough. But sooner or later, discrepancies will catch up with you.

Just look at O’Leary.

He began his coaching career in the high school ranks in Islip, N.Y., in 1968.

It took 33 years for his past to finally run him down.

Ironically, O’Leary is the perfect model for Masiello to use to resurrect himself. After his embarrassing exit at Notre Dame, O'Leary moved to the NFL, where he coached the Minnesota Vikings’ linebackers in 2002 before taking over as the defensive coordinator in 2003.

One year later, he was back in college, as Central Florida turned its program over to him. In the 11 years under his stewardship, it’s hard to argue with the results. The Golden Knights have posted a 72-56 overall record, captured three league championships in Conference USA and won 10-plus games on four occasions.

Oh, and they’re coming off the best season in school history, as they went 12-1 and knocked off the Baylor Bears in a high-scoring Fiesta Bowl 52-42.

If Masiello can rejuvenate his career in a similar fashion, it will be quite an accomplishment.

Then again, if he had simply heeded O’Leary’s cautionary tale in the first place, he wouldn’t be sweating about his job security now.

Some people just have to learn things the hard way.

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