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‘I forgot’ not valid excuse when truth is distorted

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On this Tax Day 2014, who remembers Steve Martin’s 1979 monologue from “Saturday Night Live” on how to get one million dollars and pay no taxes?

Martin suggested it was a simple two-step process. First, get a million dollars; second, don’t pay taxes.

If the IRS comes to the door looking for tax money, Martin advised viewers to utter two simple words: “I forgot.”

It seems as if that strategy still works for other reasons, too.

Enter Steve Masiello, Manhattan College’s erstwhile men’s basketball coach.

Masiello, you may know, took the Jaspers to the NCAA Tournament this March, a rather impressive feat for a moribund program. That made the coach a hot

property in the annual musical chairs frenzy to replace under-performing coaches with the latest and greatest whiz kid.

The University of South Florida was no exception and went after Masiello to fill its coaching vacancy.

A product of the University of Kentucky, the former player and coach under Rick Pitino was considered one of the rising stars of the coaching industry. In three seasons at Manhattan, he led the Jaspers to a 60-39 record, two postseason appearances and the school’s first NCAA bid since 2004.

Only it turned out Masiello was not quite the whiz kid he purported to be.

The coach, who claimed to have a degree from UK and represented that to South Florida officials, marched through graduation ceremonies before signing up for

10 hours of summer classes needed to complete his degree requirements 13 years ago.

He never went. Instead, Masiello crafted a résumé that claimed a college degree despite not completing school.

Why would he do that?

Coach, channel your best Steve Martin voice and proclaim, “I forgot.”

Of course, South Florida, upon learning of the false claim, pulled its offer. What else could it do? The guy lied. Integrity is something that should matter, especially on a college campus.

Right, Manhattan? Uh, well, apparently not as much as winning these days.

In a display of “forgiveness” that is less genuine than opportunistic, the Manhattan administration took back their coach.

That’s right. He left. He lied. And now he returns.

“After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college. After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded,” Manhattan president Brennan O’Donnell said in the statement.

That’s right, President Rationalization, er, O’Donnell, he forgot. After all, he was so busy winning basketball games that he couldn’t remember whether he actually earned the college degree he claimed. Hey, it’s not like that kind of thing is important on campus.

The university will let the coach finish his degree this summer and then return to coaching.

For his part, Masiello’s contrition (or lack thereof) is equally stunning.

“Details matter,” he said in one of his more glib utterances in trying to justify his return.

Coach, details are little things like whether you remembered to take out the trash or can wear a striped tie with a plaid shirt. Whether you actually got a degree is more than a detail.

Of course, Masiello is not the first coach to lie about his academic pedigree.

He is the first to quit a job, lie and then get his old job back.

In 2001, Notre Dame hired Georgia Tech football coach George O’Leary only to fire him a few days later when it became clear he had lied about playing football for the University of New Hampshire and earning a graduate degree from Stony Brook. In 2004, Louisiana-Lafayette fired Glynn Cyprien weeks after he accepted the school’s men’s basketball head coaching job because he did not graduate from Texas-San Antonio as he claimed.

That is what should have happened here. The fact that there is any doubt is sad. If a university does not demand honesty and integrity from its professors — yes, including those who coach — how can it possibly expect that from its students?

It can’t. So, Manhattan students, there is a lesson to be learned here. The next time you fail to turn in a test or skip class or get a million dollars and don’t pay taxes, remember that it is not your fault.

You can never be blamed if you remember these two simple words: I forgot.

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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