Rick Pitino touts USF job to protege, Manhattan's Steve Masiello

Published March 23, 2014

TAMPA — Amid reports that Manhattan's Steve Masiello has emerged as a serious candidate for the USF basketball coaching vacancy, his former boss, Rick Pitino, confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that Masiello has asked him about the job.

The two coaches spoke about the vacancy late Friday night, Pitino said.

"He said, 'What do you think (about USF)?' " Pitino told the Times on Saturday in Orlando, where his Louisville team defeated St. Louis in a third-round NCAA Tournament game. "I said, 'For you, it's a grand slam.' "

Louisville defeated Masiello's Manhattan team in a second-round game Thursday in Orlando. Masiello, who played for Pitino and Tubby Smith at Kentucky and later was a Pitino assistant at Louisville, has emerged as a serious candidate for the USF job, reported Saturday.

Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan is believed to be among those supporting Masiello's candidacy, the report said.

A University of Kentucky alumnus and longtime USF financial supporter, Sullivan was a member of the school's inaugural board of trustees. Sullivan and Pitino are founding members of Old Memorial Golf Club in northwest Hillsborough County.

"I said, 'Steven, in the Big East, I thought (USF) was an average to marginal job at best,' " Pitino said. " 'At the conference they're in right now (American Athletic), I think it's a great job.'

"When you're going against Syracuse and Louisville and Pittsburgh and Villanova and all those schools that have better facilities and better tradition, then it's not necessarily a great job. But now, I think it's a great job. They're very, very committed.

"They built a practice facility, nice renovations (to the Sun Dome). It's a great school."

Masiello, a 36-year-old native of White Plains, N.Y., has led Manhattan to a 60-39 record in three seasons.

He was a 12-year-old ball boy for the NBA's Knicks when Pitino was coach. Masiello later attended Kentucky, where he was a seldom-used walk-on guard, but he was a member of two Final Four teams, including the 1998 national title team.

Masiello began his career as an administrative assistant at Tulane and served on Manhattan's staff for a season before joining Pitino at Louisville for six seasons.

Pitino called his protege a "great recruiter" and a "tremendous X-and-O coach."

USF is seeking a replacement for Stan Heath, who was fired March 14 after compiling a 97-130 record in seven seasons. The school, which has employed a Texas-based search firm to vet candidates, is believed to be moving expeditiously in its search.

New athletic director Mark Harlan, initially scheduled to begin work April 7, recently moved his start date to Monday, the school confirmed.