Not much has been reported about why Manhattan College fired basketball coach Steve Masiello at the worst possible time.  Hoops fans here were stunned to learn the news when it broke 10-25-22 because Masiello was shown the door just 12 days before Manhattan’s season opener at Virginia Commonwealth.  

Manhattan was a team on the rise with a senior-dominated roster built to make a run at a Big Dance bid this season.  Masiello had become a fixture at Manhattan over 11 seasons.  His fiery  sideline demeanor and concerted efforts to mine hard-working and tough recruits made him popular at the small Catholic school on a big hill in Riverdale.  

Manhattan’s A-D Marianne Reilly put out a statement concurrent with the boisterous, incredulous Twitter reaction from NYC hoops fans the day the Masiello news came down.  It was a nonsensical explanation.  Said Reilly in part via press release posted on the athletics web page:   “As we look to building successful teams for the future — and with the signing period approaching — we determined that it is time to begin rebuilding from the top down.”

Masiello was entering the final year of his contract.  If Reilly foresaw a stalemate on a new deal – or wanted a new coach – the window of time to execute that decision came after the end of last season – or after the end of the current season.  Not days before the schedule starts.  The cruel timing of Reilly’s decision prompted the team’s star player Jose Perez (and two other likely starters – Omar Silverio and Samba Diallo) to walk away from the Manhattan program with school already well into the session.  Perez had been touted as the preseason player of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  When he heard the news on Masiello, Perez said he wanted off the team.  He was immediately swarmed with offers.  Perez soon packed his belongings for Morgantown, WV.  He will play for Bob Huggins and WVU once the NCAA sorts out his eligibility.  

Firing Masiello less than two weeks before the opener ruined Manhattan’s season.  It’s unfair to the players who effusively professed love for their coach and linked their enrollment decisions to play for him – not the institution.  

Is there more to this than a contract extension tussle?  There’s been no deep digging.  These types of pretty big NYC sports stories used to be blanketed by coverage.  Unfortunately, the traditional print outlets in this market have all but quit covering college athletics.  Manhattan College’s school newspaper has done a couple stories this calendar year suggesting minor problems in the program.  One involved payment for team meals and such and the other featured a beef by a grad student who didn’t like Masiello’s handling of a scholarship question.       

Masiello has said nothing publicly.  His Twitter feed is stacked with recent entries from assorted low-profile pontificators posting vaguely-worded philosophical takes on life challenges.  As a collection of thoughts since the firing (none of them written by Masiello – rather – he either “liked” or retweeted them), it’s not clear what led to his termination from his perspective.

I would assume Manhattan will pay out on Masiello’s final year – and I would also assume that if there were some scandal or wrongdoing that led to the dismissal – the AD would be compelled to disclose that given Masiello’s popularity.  

As a fan of Masiello, it was with great delight that I saw him this past Friday night in Hempstead, NY sitting behind the left shoulder of Iona head coach Rick Pitino.  Pitino and Masiello go way back and Pitino in this instance has his friend’s back.  What must be the irony of all ironies for the leadership at Manhattan is that Masiello has rebounded – and is now coaching (as an unpaid friend) for Iona which is probably Manhattan’s number one rival in the Metro Atlantic. 

Throughout Iona’s exciting five point loss to Speedy Claxton’s Hofstra squad Friday night, Masiello was active verbally, in the ear of Pitino.  Wearing an Iona polo shirt, Masiello (pictured above – coming out of halftime intermission) didn’t join huddles but he was strategically positioned with a folding chair closest to the head coach.  He joined the post-game handshake line and accepted numerous well-wishes from both Hofstra and Iona fans. 

I almost didn’t get into the game.  After a two and a half hour trip via two trains and a bus to get out there in a rainstorm, I arrived at the box office to a posted sign that said there were no tickets available.  The sign suggested checking Hofstra’s ticketing page on the athletics web site.  With game time approaching, I tried to buy a single ticket and came up empty after about 20 minutes of repeated attempts.  Just as I was about to give up and return home, a premium seat popped up.  28 bucks with charges.   Center court five rows up.

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