BY JACLYN MARR
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
Manhattan’s head basketball coach, Steve Masiello, came on the map in the NCAA after his team nearly pulled off an upset against the defending champion Louisville Cardinals. He had turned the Manhattan program around, with its first NCAA trip in a decade. He became one of the most sought-after coaches in college basketball.
Days later, the Jaspers were without a coach after their Cinderella-story season came to a close and Masiello was bound for Tampa as he signed a contract with the University of South Florida and met with his players to tell them he had accepted the job.
If Masiello decided to leave in the summer offseason, when various things are up in the air and teams usually make changes, that would be understandable. But it’s hard to believe that he would depart the program and his players that he seemed to care about a lot, just four days after finishing such an exciting and remarkable season.
Masiello’s contract with USF was a five year deal and worth more than $1 million per year. He had two years remaining on his contract at Manhattan. He was in talks with Manhattan for a new deal but they were only informal, not wanting to get too involved during the season.
“I feel very confident that I will be back at Manhattan College as the coach and I look forward to working with a great group of young men that are returning,” he said to the New York Post on Friday, the day after Manhattan’s season ended. ”This is where I want to be. I want to be in New York. I want to be with these kids. I’m really excited about the future of this program.”
However, Masiello reportedly talked to mentor, Rick Pitino, about USF after Louisville defeated Manhattan, which meant that Masiello was considering taking the job while his season with the Jaspers was still going on. According to the Tampa Tribune, Pitino called USF “a program on the rise” but so is Manhattan.
Manhattan is a program that is still working and progressing. It’s a program that doesn’t need to lose its head coach when things are starting to look so bright now and in the future. Most times, getting a new coach causes a halt in development while players adjust to the new coaching system. That is the last thing Manhattan needs right now, as it could possibly take them longer to adapt and progress than they took with the turnaround under Masiello.
“I was surprised by his decision but also angry,” sophomore Rachel Harrison said. “This season was about team over everything but it seemed like money came first to Masiello.”
MC was now left to find a new head coach for the Jaspers. A program that was finding its way up and just had a successful road to the NCAA’s was not going to be the same. After its great improvements under Masiello, there is no way of knowing for sure what the future holds for the Jaspers.
“He was a great coach. I thought he was very loyal and showed dedication to his team,” sophomore Kassandra Pujols said. “I thought he was here because he wanted to make the basketball team a big name, but I guess money was more of his motivation rather than continuing to help his team improve.”
Hours after the news first broke, Masiello lost the opportunity at USF. A false résumé claimed that he graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2000. When, in actuality, he never really earned his degree. South Florida had to cut the deal with Masiello, but now his fate at Manhattan is in jeopardy as well and it is now Manhattan’s decision on whether or not to allow him back.
“I think it would look bad on their part,” Harrison said. “I don’t think the team would accept him as much because he left them for more money. That’s not what coaching is about.”
What’s important to look at is the team and how the players feel about the situation. A coach that has helped them so much wanted to go off to bigger and better things. If Manhattan does decide to let Masiello return, would the team want to continue to play for him? Different factors affect the outcome but, for the most part, respect is something Masiello would need to earn back and it might take some time for all players to be on his side again.
“He should be allowed back because he has helped improve the team,” Pujols said. “But, if you want to base it off character, than no, he shouldn’t come back. The players might be hurt by his first decision to leave; it would ruin the dynamic of the team. It would seem like returning was only his backup plan.”
On the other hand, becoming head coach at USF would change his career. As much as he was a success at Manhattan, he would earn a greater name for himself if he coached and helped turnaround South Florida’s program.
South Florida is part of the American Athletic Conference. A bigger conference means players with a higher degree of talent and harder teams to beat. This brings on a whole new level of difficulty but if Masiello would be able to pull it off, he would be one of the biggest coaching names in the NCAA.
In his three seasons, Masiello went 60-39 and brought his team to the NCAA after winning their conference and being named MAAC champions, their first tournament appearance since 2004. He changed the program in his first year with the Jaspers having the largest turnaround in the nation. They improved by 15 wins from their previous season, the biggest change in program history.
With impressive work like this in a short period of time, it’s understandable why he became one of the most talked-about coaches in the NCAA. Schools with coaching vacancies began to show interest. South Florida showed the most interest and found what they were looking for. They had fired head coach Stan Heath after finishing 12-20 this season, with a 3-15 record in the AAC and they needed a change.
Masiello is notable for his work ethic and recruitment skills, with the players and the talent he has brought to Manhattan. USF would get one of the top young coaches in college basketball. He would work with the Bulls to turnaround their program like he had done with Manhattan.
“It’s really hard to change a team,” Pujols said. “He has to get to know a whole group of new players. It doesn’t happen overnight. The only good thing I see out of it right now is the money.”
While most people at Manhattan won’t see the greater side of him leaving, it would benefit Masiello and his career by coaching at a bigger school.
“The money is good, but that’s about it,” Harrison said.
But now, the money is gone. Masiello lost what would have been a great opportunity due to his false résumé. Whether it was a legitimate lie or something happened and he really thought he had gotten his degree, his whole coaching career is in doubt now. With the choice left to MC, it will be interesting to see what unfolds in the future for Manhattan basketball. Either they will get a new coach and a new team system or Masiello returns and has the tough job of earning back respect from his team and the Manhattan College community.