Earlier this week, Steve Masiello appeared to be on the upswing. He had just coached the Manhattan Jaspers to a near-upset of the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament, coming oh-so-close to topping his mentor Rick Pitino in a battle of wits played out on a hardwood floor in Orlando, Fla. Masiello had played under Pitino as a walk-on at Kentucky and later honed his coaching skills for seven years alongside the tactical legend at Louisville. The Jaspers competed fiercely against the Cards, leading in the last two minutes, before falling valiantly 71-64.
Grantland’s Jordan Conn had followed Masiello and his team during preparation for and participation in March Madness, and the resulting (excellent) article painted Masiello as an expert game planner, effective motivator and a generally good guy who cared deeply about his players. By the end of the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play, multiple media outlets were reporting that Masiello had reached an agreement to become the head coach at the University of South Florida.
But that all changed after USF conducted a standard background check on Masiello,through which they discovered that he had not graduated from Kentucky. Masiello had attended UK from the fall of 1996 to the summer of 2000, but didn’t manage to walk away with a bachelor’s in communications, as his resume claimed.
USF rescinded its contract offer, and Manhattan placed Masiello on leave until he sorted out his degree status with Kentucky.
Within a week, Masiello had gone from being a no-name coach at a school with less than 4,000 students, to the leading candidate at a school in a respected mid-major conference where he’d receive a seven-figure annual salary, to a fibber with no guaranteed job at all.
The whole situation with Masiello is unfortunate. It certainly does not reflect well on his ethical standards that he would feel the need to exaggerate his academic credentials.
According to the job description posted by USF, the head coaching position “requires … a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate area of specialization and six years experience at the high school level or above.” By that measure, the school might have been correct in denying Masiello the job. If USF is truly steadfast in not hiring coaches without at least a bachelor’s degree, then he doesn’t meet the basic qualifications. And, quite honestly, his head coaching credentials aren’t all that impressive — Manhattan wasn’t the best team in their conference this year, only making the big dance after winning their conference tournament.
But if USF refused to hire him based solely on the fact that he told a white lie about not graduating — and likely being a credit or two short of earning the degree — then that seems quite silly to me.
Sure, they might face some initial backlash from fans and pundits who would wring their hands about what the resume-cushioning says about Masiello’s integrity. I can already hear Skip Bayless yelling, “What the University of South Florida has done here … is hire a liar to coach their student-athletes!”
But I would challenge USF to find anyone in their athletic department who hasn’t slightly embellished their accomplishments on their resume before, and there have certainly been equally poor or worse examples of coaches falsifying educational records, when the coaches still have gotten the benefit of the doubt and proven their future employers correct for trusting them.
George O’Leary was hired by Notre Dame back in 2001 to fill the school’s prestigious head football coaching post. Days after his appointment, it was discovered that not only had O’Leary never earned a master’s degree from “NYU-Stony Brook University” — but also that the school didn’t even exist. Notre Dame forced him to resign and O’Leary retreated to the NFL for a few years.
Now, O’Leary is the head coach at University of Central Florida, where he’s been since 2004. The Golden Knights had their best season in program history last year, logging an impressive 11-1 record before upsetting Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl as the biggest underdog in BCS bowl history. But his success hasn’t just been reflected in the Knights’ on-field performance; in his first season at the helm, the Knights set the school’s Division I-A record for team GPA. They’d surpass that mark the next season and place more student-athletes on Conference USA’s Commissioner Honor Roll than any other team. The squad’s cumulative GPA has continued to rise under O’Leary’s watch, from 2.78 in his first year to 2.99 in 2009.
Now, I’m not saying that Notre Dame was incorrect in forcing O’Leary to leave South Bend. But O’Leary making up a school is a far worse lie than Masiello saying he didn’t graduate from a school that he was probably quite close to obtaining a degree from. And Masiello shouldn’t be vilified for doing something that the vast majority of Americans probably do — albeit, untruthfully.
Still, ask yourself — do you want every company you apply to work for in the future to ensure that you’re really “conversationally proficient” in that obscure foreign language you took in college to satisfy that diversity requirement?
Will Laws is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Laying Down the Laws,” runs every other Friday.