TAMPA — Almost 18 years to the day after one Rick Pitino disciple was hired to revive a foundering Sunshine State program, USF is hoping another can perform similar resuscitation.
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, a walk-on for Pitino at Kentucky and later one of his assistants at Louisville, reportedly has agreed to replace Stan Heath as Bulls coach.
Several national outlets — citing unnamed sources — reported Tuesday the deal was done, but the school made no official announcement amid rumors of prolonged negotiations.
Masiello and new USF athletic director Mark Harlan were believed to be meeting Tuesday in Dallas, near the headquarters of the private search firm employed by USF for $60,000 to help it find Heath's replacement.
CBSSports.com first reported that Masiello agreed to a five-year contract worth slightly more than $1 million annually. Manhattan's student newspaper reported Tuesday morning via Twitter that Masiello had informed the Jaspers players he had accepted the Bulls job.
While in Orlando for his team's second- and third-round NCAA Tournament games last weekend, Pitino told the Tampa Bay Times that Masiello had asked him about the USF job. "I said, 'For you it's a grand slam,' " Pitino said.
In a twist of timing, Thursday marks the 18-year anniversary of Florida's hiring of Billy Donovan who, like Masiello, played for Pitino (at Providence) and coached for him (at Kentucky).
Donovan, who has won two national titles at Florida, leads the top-ranked Gators into Thursday's Sweet 16 game against UCLA.
"I'm sure that the South Florida people, based on Rick Pitino's recommendation, are hoping and praying that they strike gold like when Rick recommended Billy Donovan to Florida," ESPN analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale said.
"Rick was convinced that Billy would be a fantastic coach, and obviously he was right because Billy's headed to the Hall of Fame. Steve Masiello has a lot of those qualities. He's a great communicator, he has tremendous energy and enthusiasm."
A 36-year-old New York native and former Knicks ball boy, Masiello transformed the Manhattan program virtually overnight.
Winners of six games the season before his arrival, the Jaspers finished 21-13 in 2012 — the nation's biggest turnaround that year — and have gone 60-39 in Masiello's three seasons.
They earned their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title — and the conference's automatic NCAA berth —this season, losing to Louisville 71-64 in the second round despite leading late.
In his half-dozen years at Louisville, Masiello earned national acclaim for his recruiting chops, helping Pitino land four top-20 recruiting classes and four McDonald's All-Americans during his tenure.
In that span, national websites foxports.com and rivals.com named Masiello one of the nation's top 25 assistant coaches.
USF baseball coach Lelo Prado, whose tenure at Louisville (1996-2006) was briefly overlapped by Masiello's (2005-11), called Masiello "a great hire" Tuesday when it appeared an announcement was forthcoming at any time.
"I mean, everything I used to hear about this guy, he's going to be a star, he's a go-getter," Prado said. "I think they hired a great guy. … I think he'll go big-time into the community and I think it's a great hire."
A walk-on guard for Pitino and later Tubby Smith at Kentucky, his four seasons in Lexington amounted essentially to a coaching apprenticeship. Masiello totaled 42 career points in 215 total minutes but was on two Final Four teams, including the 'Cats' 1998 national title team.
"When we were around Rick, you could tell (Masiello) was a guy that just went about his business, did what he had to do, worked his tail off, and was a fun guy to be around," Prado said. "I think he's like a young Rick Pitino. He's a go-getter."
Counting the eight-week search for Harlan, USF will have paid $160,000 (not including expenses) to Plano, Texas-based Eastman & Beaudine in the past two months to help it land a new AD and basketball coach.
The newest contract for the men's basketball search, obtained Monday upon a records public-request by the Tampa Bay Times, was dated March 12, two days before Heath was fired. It was signed by Cynthia Visot, the USF Board of Trustees chief of staff, on behalf of President Judy Genshaft on March 18.