Florida International is a Division I institution in Miami. They're growing, as evidenced by a new facility that went up for the football program. However, the basketball program has been quite stagnant. In fact, they averaged 693 fans per game in a 13-20 season in 2008-2009.
Instead of letting the basketball program flounder, the administration reached out to an old friend of athletic director Pete Garcia.
Next thing you know, everyone knows who FIU is, because Isiah Thomas is their basketball coach.
Zeke is virtually untouchable in the NBA right now. He underachieved in a stint at Indiana's head coach, then embarrassed himself and the league's most marketable franchise with a disastrous stint as head of operations with the New York Knicks.
What Thomas will find in the college game is something a bit different than he had in the NBA. Yes, young athletes have egos unlike anything he would have seen when he was a kid. Yes, young athletes are bigger and stronger than most anything he would have seen when he was a kid.
However, there's no salary cap. Only scholarship and recruiting restrictions. No matter the media attention his hire got, FIU is not in the college basketball spotlight. And there's no doubt Thomas has a passion for and a knowledge of the game of basketball.
While there's no doubt that Thomas has been a lightning rod in his time as a coach or personnel guy in the NBA, my FanHouse colleague Jay Mariotti makes a very good point.
This is his last lifeline in the sport. The fact he's willing to take his massive, tainted name to an obscure program suggests he still has a measure of good character and might put it to positive use: coaching young people, teaching them about life and using his own experiences as a how-to -- and how-not-to -- handbook.If the fact that he's willing to work with an obscure program doesn't convince you that he's serious, try this.
Thomas' introduction to FIU on Wednesday included the revelation that the former New York Knicks coach and president — who's still owed millions from the NBA team — will donate his salary back to the school for his first season. School officials did not release the exact figure, other than saying it's between $200,000 and $300,000. "I did not come here for the money," Thomas said.It's a good start for Isiah. For FIU, it's officially a low-risk move. They give him perhaps a tad more money than they'd give a hotshot assistant from Gardner-Webb (no offense at all to Gardner-Webb, but I'd expect a school like FIU to hire a good coach from a very small school for their gig). In return, they get notoriety and recognition that they'd never otherwise get.
For Thomas, it's a chance to get his reputation heading back in the right direction. He has a long road back to where his image was when he was kissing Magic Johnson, but he has to start somewhere.