National Columnist

Masiello owes Manhattan a debt of gratitude ... and loyalty

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Manhattan did a good thing. A self-serving thing? Oh, sure. Bringing back Steve Masiello, after his dishonest resume cost him the South Florida job, is self-serving for Manhattan. Who were the Jaspers going to get who's better, or anywhere near as good, as Steve Masiello in early April?

Nobody. And Manhattan knows it. So let's not be naive and presume that Manhattan was acting only for Steve Masiello's benefit when it threw a life vest to his drowning career.

But let's not be so cynical that we miss the goodness, the decency, of this gesture. Manhattan prefers to be great at basketball, but doesn't have to be. This is not an SEC school needing its football program to be so good that it sells tickets and merchandise and attracts donations from rich boosters, all of which helps the school's athletic department stay out of the red. This is a small Catholic school from the MAAC that would like to be great in basketball, absolutely, but not if it costs the school its integrity or reputation.

And yet Manhattan did the good and graceful thing, not the easy thing, by bringing back Masiello, whose name is mud. In the last few weeks Steve Masiello has become a household name for college basketball fans, and I promise you it's not because his team at Manhattan went -- let me look this up -- 25-8 this past season.

Masiello is a punch line, a poor man's George O'Leary -- circa 2001 -- because his resume says he graduated from Kentucky but reality says otherwise, and because the crack search firm hired by South Florida found that out before Masiello was introduced as the Bulls' next coach. (Although the search firm didn't find it out before the Bulls had settled on Masiello, and before the news leaked, so maybe you should read the words "crack search firm" with the sarcasm with which they were intended.)

If Manhattan doesn't bring back Masiello, he's most likely out of work for a year. Maybe he latches on in a few weeks as an assistant on a buddy's staff, or maybe mentor Rick Pitino calls in a favor and gets Masiello a job at the end of one of his buddy's benches. But probably not. Jobs are filling up this spring, and Masiello is toxic. He's not a guy you can add to your staff and win the press conference if you're the next coach at, say, California. Not so soon after his national embarrassment.

Steve Masiello (USATSI)
Provided he completes his degree at UK, Steve Masiello will return to the Manhattan program. (USATSI)

So what I'm saying is, Steve Masiello was probably at least a year away from becoming even an assistant coach in Division I -- and therefore another handful of years from getting another shot as a head coach -- until Manhattan decided to bring him back.

Which brings me to the way this story ought to end: With Masiello at Manhattan for the foreseeable future. If the Jaspers slump from 25 wins to 18 next season, this whole thing is a moot point. But Masiello had that program on an upswing, and if that upswing continues -- if Manhattan wins 25 or 30 games next season, goes to the 2015 or 2016 NCAA Tournament, wins a game or two as a No. 13 seed -- Masiello could be rehabilitated enough for a bigger school to take a look in a year or two.

By then Masiello will have his degree. He'll have moved a year or two past his embarrassment. Hey, look at George O'Leary. He didn't stay toxic forever. He rehabbed his image as an assistant with the Vikings, Central Florida hired him in 2004, and this past season UCF won 12 games and reached the Fiesta Bowl, where it defeated Baylor.

In a year or two, Steve Masiello could have that chance.

If he has any decency, any sense of gratitude -- if he's learned anything at all about himself and about Manhattan -- he'll decline all chances to interview for another job.

If Steve Masiello has any shame at all, he'll be Manhattan's coach for a long, long time.

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