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The Tampa Tribune (Florida)
 

TAMPA -- The University of South Florida's search for a new men's basketball coach hit a major snag late Tuesday night when USF learned that the man it was set to hire, Manhattan College coach Steve Masiello, had a previously undetected discrepancy in his background check, a source close to the coaching search told The Tampa Tribune.

USF was forced to kill the deal with Masiello.

That background-check information was discovered by Eastman & Beaudine, a Texas-based search firm that was paid $60,000 by USF to find candidates to replace Stan Heath, who was fired on March 14.

Masiello, 36, had agreed to a five-year contract with USF and signed the deal, believed to be worth more than $1 million per season, leaving only final details to be worked out.

The search is back on, and USF must turn to other candidates. Possibilities include University of Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey or Louisiana Tech head coach Mike White, whose team faces Florida State tonight for a spot in the National Invitation Tournament final four in New York.

Masiello, who just completed his third year as Manhattan's head coach and led the 25-8 Jaspers to the NCAA tournament, attended the University of Kentucky, where he played for Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith from 1997-2000.

After leaving UK, Masiello worked as an assistant at Tulane and Manhattan before joining Pitino's Louisville staff for six seasons, where he was considered one of the nation's top recruiters. This season, Masiello was mentioned as one of the nation's up-and-coming coaches, particularly with a strong finish by the Jaspers, who lost to Pitino's Cardinals 71-64 in the NCAA tournament's second round on Thursday night in Orlando.

Earlier in the day, 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.

The Quadrangle, Manhattan College's student newspaper, reported Tuesday morning that Masiello met with his players to tell them he had accepted the USF job. After that, Jaspers senior guard Michael Alvarado posted on Twitter, "I'm going to apply for the HC job at Manhattan.'' 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.''

Heath went 97-130 in seven seasons. He 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.

USF paid Eastman & Beaudine to find candidates for the men's basketball position. The same firm was paid $100,000 by USF in the search for a new AD, which resulted in Harlan, formerly the associate athletic director at UCLA.

According to a document obtained by The Tampa 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,'' said Heath, who received a contract extension from then-AD Doug Woolard in July 2012, but was fired with four years remaining on his contract and is due a $1.5 million buyout payment by USF. "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."

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.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

March 26, 2014 
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