The college and the GAA share the use of Gaelic Park and enjoy a cordial relationship, considering the tension that can often arise between other clubs and leagues when faced with paucity of large, high standard pitches in the five boroughs.
So when Manhattan’s basketball team gained a rare ticket to the NCAA tournament in March, there was a little bit of attention focused on the team for a few days, not just up where their picturesque campus is located in Riverdale but as far as the citywide New York media, always hungry for an alternative to the underwhelming Knicks or whatever pre-season baseball story was being churned out that day.
The Jaspers (as they’re commonly known) were knocked out immediately, losing to the far superior Louisville although they put up the sort of courageous battle that wins hearts and minds at the annual tournament.
Their coach Steve Masiello (a former assistant at Louisville) was immediately in the spotlight and as with all young coaches working up through the ranks, a better offer would soon be on the table.
That new opportunity came from the University of South Florida. Not exactly a top tier set-up but a step in the right direction for a 36-year-old with a growing reputation.
Better money at a better team while moving a little closer to the basketballing powerhouses of the south.
That’s where things fell apart. As is the way now in college sports, the CV of the incoming coach was combed through by fact checkers and it was sadly discovered that he had not graduated with a degree from Kentucky, as he had claimed.
Masiello’s big chance fell to pieces in the most public of ways. A minor detail about his past caught up with him and although he subsequently kept his job at Manhattan College, he was forced to go on leave to complete the outstanding credits.
It seems harsh but that’s college sport. The coaches get remunerated beyond anything that seems fair but are expected to act as standard setters for their student athletes — both on and off the court or field.
That means they must be seen to apply those same values to their own lives. Lying about your education is a major no-no and it’s one of the few instances when a coach gets a rap on the knuckles.
In August, the much-publicised Croke Park Classic will bring the football teams of Penn State and the University of Central Florida (UCF) to Dublin for a season-opener.
Of course, not many institutions have done coaching falls from grace quite like what happened in Penn State over two years ago. They are still patching things back together after the sexual abuse scandal that cost former head coach Joe Paterno, now deceased, his job after he appeared to look the other way.
But I was blissfully unaware that George O’Leary, the coach of UCF, is himself only now getting his career back on track after having been found out for adding a little gloss to his own background.
It’s cruel to dredge this up after over a decade. But it’s much too fascinating.
In 2002, after a couple of decades of doing his own hard slog through the coaching ladders, O’Leary — a proud Irish-American from New York — was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach the Notre Dame football team.
It doesn’t get much better than that. And it doesn’t get a whole lot worse than being forced to step down five days later.
All too quickly, it was all over. An indiscretion in the 1970s — one from which there was no turning back — cost him dearly in 2002.
The recently retired Gary Smith wrote a remarkable piece in Sports Illustrated about this sad saga at the time. I dug it up after an eye-opening conversation on the subject of O’Leary.
“Two sentences in my bio,” Smith reported O’Leary as saying. “Two sentences insignificant to what I was doing. ‘Academic fraud,’ they’re calling it. How could that be, when I never used it to get a job? Nobody ever asked for a résumé before they hired me to coach in college or the pros. I never profited from it. Look, I was stupid, I screwed up. I’m responsible for everything. But where’s forgiveness?”
I’m looking at the Croke Park Classic with a new understanding now.
I’d like to think George O’Leary will see it as another step away from a dark period in his life, bringing his suddenly improved team to Ireland and shaking off that painful Fighting Irish memory.