Wednesday, April 15, 2009

FIU hires Thomas; one question: why?

For some strange reason, Florida International University decided that hiring Isiah Thomas to coach its basketball team would be a good idea.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, though, doesn't really agree with the decision -- at all:

He’s been hired as the basketball coach at Florida International University, and Thomas can make history here. This job gives Thomas the chance to obliterate programs in the NBA, CBA and now, NCAA.

Already, Thomas is talking about how he’s always wanted to coach college basketball, about how taking a job in the Sun Belt Conference was about a challenge, a choice. He isn’t going to FIU because he wants to, but because there’s nothing else for him. Beyond his professional failures, his behavior has made it impossible for a franchise to sell him politically in a public job.

"He feels like he’s toxic in the NBA right now," a longtime Thomas associate said. "He thinks this is the only way to get back in the basketball world."

Ouch. But is Wojnarowski wrong? In a word, no.

FIU certainly isn't the greatest basketball school of all time, but how does hiring Thomas send the message of trying to build a better program? First of all, Thomas isn't a good coach; his career record as a head coach in the NBA is 187-223, and as the coach of just the Knicks, Thomas was 56-108. He didn't develop any talent, and players started to tune him out as his tenure as coach went on.

Besides coaching poorly, Thomas was absolutely terrible at identifying talent. He made horrible trades, signed bad players to big money, and didn't do anything that made it seem like he should be in control of any basketball program on any level. And that's not even considering Thomas's embarrassing off-the-court distractions.

Sure, college basketball is much different than pro ball, but if Thomas can't coach or recruit well, what is he going to do? Apparently he'll work for free, that's what:

At his introductory news conference at FIU on Wednesday, Thomas said his salary the first year from the Golden Panthers will be donated back to the school's athletic department.

Thomas was fired by the New York Knicks last year. The team still owes him around $12 million for the final two years of his deal there.

So it's not much of a great gesture then, though it couldn't hurt his reputation at this point. If he lasts more than a season or two at FIU, I'll be shocked.

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