It was amazing. He was really getting $886,000.
Not a decade ago Massimino was Daddy Mass, the rumpled engineer of the warmest and fuzziest of NCAA basketball titles, Villanova's improbable defeat of Georgetown. He had a reputation for strict fealty to the rules and even stricter loyalty to those around him, people like Jake Nevin, the wheelchair-bound Wildcat trainer who became a symbol of Villanova's pluck. But after Massimino won the title, something happened. "Everybody told me he changed," says Tarkanian. "Even people I thought were his friends told me that."
Fans in Philadelphia blamed Massimino for the breakup of the Big Five, the crosstown series that had given Philly hoops culture a texture unlike that of any other city. Massimino insisted he had nothing to do with Villanova's decision to pull out of the city series, blaming the move on the school's president, the Reverend Edmund Dobbin. Other coaches in town, though, harbored the feeling that Massimino wanted an easier schedule and was responsible for Villanova's unbrotherly act.
The disaffection extended out the Main Line to Villanova, where the Augustinian fathers had opened the vaults in order to keep Massimino when the New Jersey Nets wooed him following the championship season. Critics complained that even as the game sped up with the introduction of the shot clock, the Wildcats continued to play a taut, joyless, ball-control style. He was confrontational and unyielding, arguing with a male cheerleader whose ponytail he didn't like, challenging students and fans who criticized him, once even ordering security guards to forcibly remove a heckler from the Spectrum.
Near the end of his tenure at Villanova, Massimino reportedly wanted to move up to athletic director. Miffed that the administration wouldn't assure him that his son Tom would succeed him as basketball coach, he felt that his loyalty to the university had been betrayed. The Wildcats reached the NCAAs only four times in the seven years following the championship season. After Villanova finished 14-15 with a first-round loss in the 1992 NIT, Massimino lit out for Las Vegas. The day that Villanova athletic director Ted Aceto announced the departure, students at the press conference broke into a chorus of "Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye."
Since the 1950s, when he was a high school coach in Hillside, N.J., and Lexington, Mass., Massimino has incanted a mantra of "family" and "loyalty." He would call former players on holidays, and he did all he could to set up his assistants with head coaching positions. At Villanova a recruit had to meet with the current players so everyone could sign off on him before Massimino offered the kid a scholarship.
Yet Massimino's notion of family, which sometimes degenerated into a secretive, us-against-them clannishness, didn't sit well with everyone at UNLV, where he was an outsider called upon to bring order to a renegade basketball program. Las Vegas was cleaved into two camps, one loyal to Tarkanian, the other to Maxson, and Massimino was immediately pegged as Maxson's man when he vowed the day he was hired that neither he nor his players would ever embarrass the university, a statement that Tark partisans took as a slap at their man.
Despite his pledge, several episodes occurred under Massimino that had a same-old-Vegas smell to them. In March '93 it was discovered that one of Massimino's first recruits, forward Kebu Stewart, had received free plane tickets to and from his home in New York City from a street agent. Last year, star guard J.R. Rider became ensnared in an academic scandal after it was discovered that a tutor had written a paper for him. When a number of players received free workout privileges at a local health club, the athletic department blamed the improper benefit on "the previous men's basketball administration." Then it came to light that one of Massimino's assistants had written a letter designating which of the Rebels were to be allowed to use the club. Suddenly the moral high ground had eroded under Massimino's feet.
The missteps might have been forgiven if he had won at a rate to which the UNLV community was accustomed. Instead, despite a schedule spritzed with Downy, Massimino failed to reach the NCAA tournament in either of his two seasons at UNLV. This didn't go over well in a city where the losers are supposed to come from out of town. Attendance figures reflected Vegas's disappointment.
"What a laugh," says Al Levy, a real estate agent and Tarkanian supporter who vows that he'll now return to UNLV home games. "These guys did all the things Tarkanian and the others were accused of. I haven't gone to a game in two years. But now the white hats are wearing the white hats again."