Saturday, April 7, 2012

Isiah Thomas Hiring Ends In Failure

The "Isiah Thomas Experiment" is over at FIU.

FIU's Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia lavishly announced the hiring of the NBA Hall of Famer almost three years ago in front of stunned, and skeptical, fans and media with the hope that he would turn around a basketball program that has never really reached any level of notoriety.

There is no mistaking that the hiring of Thomas, considering his checkered coaching record at the NBA level and the sexual assault lawsuit that was waged against him and the New York Knicks in 2006, was a gamble. Some speculate a publicity stunt.

But what did FIU had to lose? Not much. So the Panthers signed him on to a 5-year, $1.1 million contract.

The hope was that Isiah would attract top talent to South Florida, where college basketball is normally an afterthought. That Isiah would be more tailored towards the college game, identifying talent and coaching them up without having to deal with the administrative responsibilities he had with the Knicks.

Those hopes were never realized.

After three seasons, there was really no noticeable difference on the hardcourt. This past season, Isiah's Panthers compiled a pathetic 8-21 record, three fewer wins than the 2010-2011 season. His 26-65 record as FIU's coach was nothing to brag about.

Some of the players that Thomas brought in early on, mostly JUCO transfers, failed to make a huge impact and ran into problems in the classroom that kept them off the court. But to his credit, Thomas did graduate 17 of 19 players

Dominique Ferguson, who was considered a top-100 recruit in the 2010 signing class, has failed to live up to expectations after two seasons. He averaged a paltry 8.7 points per game and just 6.2 rebounds per game this season and can now be labeled a disappointment until he proves otherwise.

Isiah was "stunned" that he was relieved of his duties. But how could he be? In his third year as head coach, there was no indication of forward progress. In fact, the team looked like it regressed from his second to third season at the helm.

Thomas spoke highly of his incoming 2012 class, featuring Milton Doyle, Tim Williams and Antoine Myers. He also looked ahead to 2013 when Thomas was expecting four of the Top 50 recruits in the state to make their way on campus.

But there is little indication that these incoming recruits would be able to help the Panthers compete for a Sun Belt championship looking at the production his players have made during their time here.


If anyone should learn from this whole fiasco, it should be Pete Garcia. The tenure of Isiah Thomas should be a lesson: that sometimes a big name will not translate into success. And that making a hire to make headlines more often than not doesn't lead to much else.

Home attendance, after the initial shine of the hire wore off, plummeted back to pre-Isiah levels and among the worst in the conference. The record? No improvement.

So now the program needs to start from scratch. Again.   

Garcia says he is looking to take the program in a new direction. And his hires since taking over FIU Athletics have been nothing less than intriguing. This coaching search should be no different. Will his next hire be able to finally make FIU basketball relevant? And will Garcia go for another big, recognizable name or a seasoned assistant from a reputable program? Or maybe it will be something else entirely.

We will find out soon enough.   

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