Thomas Gets Another Shot With FIU

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009; 3:48 PM

MIAMI, April 14 -- Isiah Thomas, the beloved former Detroit Pistons point guard whose tenure as a coach and executive of the New York Knicks was characterized by controversy, has accepted the head coaching job at Florida International University.

Out of work since the Knicks fired him last April, Thomas was a prized commodity among officials at FIU, a large public university in Miami-Dade County that has long been overshadowed in athletics by the University of Miami and which recently has sought to close the gap.

Thomas will succeed Sergio Rouco, who was reassigned Monday after leading the Golden Panthers to a 55-94 record over five years in the Sun Belt Conference, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia announced.

Thomas, 47, appears to be seeking a fresh start after a troubled five-year career with the Knicks and personal problems last fall. He is scheduled to be introduced during a press conference Wednesday.

"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 in a statement.

In 2007, Madison Square Garden was forced to pay $11.6 million in damages after Knicks employee Anucha Browne Sanders contended in a lawsuit that Thomas sexually harassed her. Booed and derided by fans throughout the 2007-08 season, Thomas was replaced as coach after the Knicks tied a franchise record of 59 losses. Thomas had also been the Knicks' president of basketball operations.

Last October, a person at Thomas's residence was transported to a hospital after police were summoned because of an apparent overdose of prescription sleeping pills. The Associated Press later reported that it was Thomas who had suffered the overdose.

FIU has been striving in recent years under Garcia to break through as a Division I-A power.

"A lot of people don't know that FIU is one of the 25 largest universities in the country, with a tremendously strong alumni community standing behind us," said Thomas, who played college basketball at Indiana under coach Bob Knight. "Most important, 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. 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."

The athletic department spent $58 million on a new football stadium and complex and hired in 2006 former University of Miami star Mario Cristobal, the first Cuban American coach in Division I football.

"We are excited to have Isiah Thomas join the FIU family," FIU President Modesto A. Maidique said in a statement. "This is bigger than basketball and bigger than athletics. 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."

Prior to his traumatic years in New York, Thomas led the Pistons to back-to-back titles and was considered one of the greatest players of any era in the NBA. He spent time with the Toronto Raptors as a team executive before coaching the Indiana Pacers to three straight playoff appearances from 2001 to 2003.

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