TAMPA — The University of South Florida was unable to hire Manhattan College's Steve Masiello as its men's basketball coach because he lied on his résumé and never completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Kentucky.
The UK Office of Public Relations confirmed to The Tampa Tribune that Masiello was a student there from 1996 to 2000. He was a walk-on basketball player for Coach Rick Pitino in his first year, then Coach Tubby Smith for his final three seasons. According to UK records, Masiello never received a degree.
In Masiello's official biography with Manhattan College, he is described as “a 2000 graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in communications.''
According to a source close to USF's coaching search, Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan had reached an agreement Tuesday on a five-year contract with Masiello, who would be paid more than $1 million per season. The document was signed, but it was contingent on the verification of his résumé.
Eastman & Beaudine, a Texas-based search firm that was paid $60,000 by USF to find men's basketball coaching candidates, was completing its routine criminal and background check.
That's when the résumé discrepancy was found.
Pitino told ESPN that he was “shocked'' and “had no idea'' Masiello never graduated from Kentucky. “When I left (UK for the NBA), he was on track to graduate,'' Pitino said.
According to USF policy, all full-time coaching hires must have a bachelor's degree.
It was not immediately clear whether Masiello, 36, would be returning to his position at Manhattan. According to The Quadrangle, Manhattan College's student newspaper, Masiello met with his players on Tuesday morning and told them he was leaving for USF.
A USF spokesman said Harlan said he would not comment on the coaching search until it was completed.
USF will renew its coaching search with University of Florida assistant John Pelphrey, Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, Louisiana Tech coach Mike White and Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall expected to be on the list of potential targets.
USF is replacing Stan Heath, who was fired March 14 after a 12-20 season, bringing his seven-year record to 97-130. Heath received a contract extension in July 2012 and was fired with four years remaining on his deal, leaving USF liable for a $1.5 million buyout payment.
Since leaving UK, Masiello worked as an administrative assistant at Tulane (2000-01) and assistant coach at Manhattan (2001-05) before joining Pitino's Louisville staff for six seasons (2005-11). He was hired as Manhattan head coach for 2011-12, inheriting a six-win team and transforming it into a 21-13 record.
In three seasons at Manhattan, Masiello was 60-39, including this season's 25-8 mark. The Jaspers lost to Pitino's Louisville Cardinals 71-64 in Thursday night's NCAA tournament second-round game at Orlando's Amway Center.
Immediately after that game, when asked by a Tribune reporter in the Manhattan locker room, Masiello refused to comment on his potential interest in USF's job opening. But he was quickly identified as the top target. By early Tuesday, after reporting by ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, it appeared that Masiello to USF was a done deal.
It seemed perfect. Some people portrayed Masiello as a modern version of Pitino, his Hall of Fame mentor, whether it's his organizational skills, his courtside intensity or his custom-made Italian suits.
Others compared him to Florida's Billy Donovan, another Pitino protégé, a prodigy, a tireless recruiter and worker, a coach who thrives on proving people wrong.
Meanwhile, according to Masiello's Twitter account, he began following several of the USF players.
But there was never any official confirmation by USF or Manhattan on Masiello's hiring. As day turned into night, concerns were raised about the potential deal.
There were no such concerns earlier in the day.
“Stevie can do whatever he wants to,'' Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said before the USF deal was canceled. “He's just terrific. He's a rising star in this business.''
“This is a great, great hire for USF,'' ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said, also before he knew the Masiello-to-USF deal was dead. “He's going to give them a big lift. If you're looking to go young, he's your guy. He has such energy, such enthusiasm. I just think he has a brilliant future.''
Masiello was going to replace Heath, who had a pair of postseason appearances, including a 22-14 team in 2011-12 that came within one victory of reaching the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. The Bulls finished 12-20 this season, closing with a nine-game losing streak and a 3-15 last-place mark in the American Athletic Conference.
Last month, Eastman & Beaudine were hired by USF for $100,000 in the search for a new AD, which resulted in Harlan, formerly the associate athletic director at UCLA. The firm was subsequently hired by USF at a $60,000 fee to complete a search for men's basketball coaching candidates.
According to a document obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, the firm's initial $30,000 invoice to USF for the men's basketball search was dated March 12. That was the day of USF's 72-68 loss against Rutgers in the AAC tournament — or two days before Heath was told of his firing by USF assistant athletic director Barry Clements.
Although Cynthia Visot, chief of staff for USF's Board of Trustees signed the invoice for school president Judy Genshaft on March 18, it appears the school was looking for a new men's basketball coach while Heath was still employed.
“You can't be surprised by anything in this business,'' Heath said. “It's irrelevant. When a new AD comes in, you expect changes, especially if you aren't winning games.''
Masiello's candidacy was supported by Chris Sullivan, the co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and close friend of Pitino. Sullivan, a USF benefactor who is ramping up his support of the school's athletic program, and Pitino are founding members of Tampa's Old Memorial Golf Club.
Pitino said Masiello asked him about the USF job on Thursday, when Louisville defeated Manhattan.
“I told him I was very proud of his coaching and his preparation,'' said Pitino after the game. “I was really disappointed I had to play Steve because he had an unbelievable year. I thought he could win a couple of games in the tournament.
“When Travis Ford (Oklahoma State), Billy Donovan, Steve Masiello, Sean Woods (Colorado State) and all these guys (all former Pitino assistants) coach, I sit at the edge of my bed and jump up and down like a cheerleader. I was very happy for my basketball team that we could move on, but very disappointed for him and his kids because they played terrific.''
During the Orlando NCAA games, Pitino said Masiello would be an excellent choice for USF, which he called “a program on the rise'' and “a place where you can win because you now have the facilities and the ability to recruit good players.''
USF just finished its third season in the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center, a state-of-the-art practice facility. Following USF's NCAA tournament appearance in 2012, after playing one season in downtown Tampa, the Bulls returned to campus in a renovated Sun Dome.
But the new home did not immediately translate to on-court success under Heath, whose teams lost 32 of their last 38 conference games, including tournament play.
The Bulls have 12 players returning from last year's roster, including 6-foot-10, 245-pound center John Egbunu (7.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) and 6-8, 266-pound forward Chris Perry (8.9 points, 5.3 rebounds), both members of the AAC All-Rookie Team after their freshman seasons.
There's also 6-1 junior guard Corey Allen Jr. (9.0 points, 3.3 rebounds) and promising 6-5 wing Dre Clayton, who sat out last season. USF signed Oldsmar Christian shooting guard Troy Holston in the fall and has at least one more scholarship available.
Of particular interest is junior point guard Anthony Collins, a catalyst on the 2012 NCAA team and a second-team All-AAC preseason pick. Collins, who missed 24 games (including the final 22) with a knee injury, dismissed talk of a possible transfer by announcing on Jan. 27 that he planned to finish his career at USF and was “100 percent behind Coach Heath.''
Heath said he expected Collins to remain at USF, but added “if he's not comfortable with the new coach, all bets are off.''
Meanwhile, Josh Heath, the coach's son who played in 17 games and started four as a freshman point guard, is exploring his options and could transfer, his father said. The younger Heath was the Tribune's Hillsborough County Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2012.