Isiah Thomas takes FIU coaching job

MIAMI — Isiah Thomas is back in the coaching business.

The former New York Knicks president and coach Isiah Thomas was hired as Florida International's basketball coach today, a move that gives the Hall of Fame player another chance to revive his career.

Financial terms of his five-year contract weren't immediately released. A news conference to introduce Thomas was planned for Wednesday.

Thomas helped the Detroit Pistons win two NBA championships as a point guard, then coached the Indiana Pacers before taking over in New York, where an array of problems marred his tenure. He has never coached at the college level.

Undeterred, FIU moved quickly to lock up their top choice for the job.

"We are very excited to have such a legendary athlete and proven winner in Isiah Thomas to lead our men's basketball program," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said. "There is no doubt that Isiah will give FIU a tremendous opportunity to take the basketball program to the highest level."

Thomas comes to FIU after several years of losing and legal problems in New York.

The Knicks finished 23-59 a year a go, prompting Thomas' firing. They never won a playoff game in his stay as president or coach, and his overall record in New York is 56-108.

In 2007, a jury ordered Knicks owners Madison Square Garden to pay $11.6 million to a former team executive who was sexually harassed by Thomas. That, along with all the losing by the Knicks, brought on a wave of "Fire Isiah!" chants that would typically start soon after tip-off at MSG.

Then this past October, Thomas had to deal with a new issue. Officers responded to his New York-area home after a 911 call reporting an overdose on sleeping pills. According to police reports, those officers found a man passed out on the floor and gave him oxygen until an ambulance arrived.

Authorities never publicly identified Thomas as the victim, but a person familiar with the case later confirmed to the AP that it was the former NBA star.

FIU is hoping Thomas can build a winner.

The Golden Panthers have lost 20 games in three of the last four years, and haven't had a winning record since going 16-14 in the 1999-2000 season. FIU finished fifth in the six-team Sun Belt East Division this past season, and only averaged 693 fans for its home games — one of the lowest totals in Division I.

"I think we can get good players from across Florida and around the country to buy into our plan to make this a top-tier basketball program," Thomas said in a statement released by the school. "I'm committed to growing something here, and strongly believe that over time, we'll put a team on the floor that everyone at FIU can be proud of."

Thomas replaces Sergio Rouco, who was reassigned Monday after posting a losing record in each of his five seasons as coach

And even before the hiring was announced, the mere mention of Thomas coaching at FIU was a galvanizing topic for conversation in South Florida.

"This is bigger than basketball and bigger than athletics," said FIU president Modesto A. Maidique. "Having a nationally-recognized coach like Isiah at FIU will have a positive impact on our university as a whole, helping us achieve additional national exposure."

With Thomas on board, national exposure is certain.

He played his college ball at Indiana for Bob Knight, helping the Hoosiers win the 1981 national championship. From there, he spent his NBA playing career with the Pistons, appeared in 11 All-Star games and was the MVP of the 1990 NBA finals, when Detroit won its second straight title.

"Coming back to the college game has always been a dream of mine, and I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to go somewhere where we can build a basketball legacy together," Thomas said.

His overall NBA coaching record ins 187-223. He led the Indiana Pacers to the playoffs in three straight years from 2000-03.

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