Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Blame for USF Masiello mess falls on many

Well, that didn't take long.

USF athletic director Mark Harlan hasn't been on the job long enough to take a coffee break and he already has a hand in the most embarrassing moment in the history of South Florida athletics.

What a mess.

USF somehow managed to fire a coach before it even hired him. Only at USF, kids.

Follow along: USF tried to hire basketball coach Steve Masiello from Manhattan. USF offered him the job. He accepted. He told his old team and started following some of his new players on Twitter. In today's world, that's practically official, right?

Signed, sealed and delivered?

More like botched, bungled and burned.

Turns out, Masiello lied on his resume when he said he graduated from the University of Kentucky.

There's plenty of blame to go around here, but if we're pointing fingers, start with Harlan.

He's in charge of the athletic program. He's the boss. He's the one doing the hiring.

This isn't to say Harlan was alone in this colossal debacle.

University president Judy Genshaft was lining up a search firm to find a new coach two days before firing old coach Stan Heath. That's just poor taste. Plus, it would appear she didn't make the best choice in search firms.

USF is paying Eastman & Beaudine $60,000 plus expenses to help find a head coach. However, from the looks of things, it wasn't until well into the process — too far into the process, if you ask me — that anyone bothered to see if Masiello actually graduated.

Wouldn't you think that verifying backgrounds and resumes are pretty much the first order of business for a search firm? Wouldn't you do that before you even recommended someone? If I'm USF, I think I'm asking for the details of just how my $60,000 was being spent and whether this whole thing could have been discovered before everyone ended up looking like donkeys.

That brings us to Masiello. Of course he deserves a good chunk of the blame. Either he is completely confused or he lied about graduating.

I'm not sure you need a college degree in communications or basket-weaving or any subject to be able to teach kids how to play basketball. Frankly, I'm more concerned about the players going to class now than whether the coach went 15 years ago.

But the guy lied. That's why Masiello couldn't be hired.

In the end, everyone looks bad here. Particularly USF. Particularly Harlan.

This is Harlan's first big hire. He had to get it right. This was his first impression.

It just seems that before working out all the details of a new contract and having what even USF admits was an "agreement in principle'' that you make sure the candidate was completely vetted. All that was left to finalize the deal was what USF called a "verification of credentials.''

But shouldn't the "verification of credentials'' have come first?

Here's the part I keep getting stuck on: This should have been so simple to discover.

USF's job description had one big requirement for its head coach and that was that he had to have a college degree. To see if Masiello met that requirement, all you had to do was make one phone call to Kentucky. One. It would have taken two minutes. Anyone at USF could have done it. Heck, sports writers from across the country found out this information by calling Kentucky on Wednesday.

This isn't some obscure episode in Masiello's past. This isn't some complicated story that required expert private investigator skills. This was one measly phone call.

Harlan turned down an interview request Wednesday, but USF can easily come up with a bunch of excuses.

It can blame the search firm. It can blame Masiello. It can argue that there was no reason to distrust Masiello, especially because he has worked at three other universities. It can argue that it had to move more hastily than it wanted because Masiello was a hot candidate.

USF can also point out that it never officially announced that it had hired Masiello. As far as USF was concerned, it caught Masiello's lie before it hired him. That's better than having caught it after having the big news conference with the band playing the fight song while Masiello was holding up horn signs.

But, come on, this is embarrassing. And so avoidable.

For Harlan, seeing as how it was his first big hire just days into his job as a first-time athletic director, he needed to do everything exactly right. That meant checking and double-checking and triple-checking every detail, even if it seemed redundant, even if it seemed silly. He needed to look for red flags, even if there didn't seem to be any. He needed to make sure Masiello was beyond reproach before offering him the job.

Harlan didn't do that. And now USF is a major national story today for all the wrong reasons.

This will pass. USF will find a coach. Perhaps Harlan, having learned a tough lesson, will go on to be a great athletic director.

Perhaps this will all end well.

Clearly, it's not a good start.

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