MIAMI – Isiah Thomas arrived at Florida International knowing that he was taking a risk.
Three years later, the school didn’t see enough reward.
The Basketball Hall of Fame player was fired Friday by FIU, after his teams went 26-65 in his three seasons. His hiring came out of nowhere in 2009 – No one thought we could pull this off, FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia proudly said at the time – and in the end, so did his firing.
FIU announced the decision in a simple three-line statement.
We want to thank Isiah Thomas for his three years here at FIU, Garcia said. However, we have decided to take the program in a different direction.
A call and text message to Thomas were not immediately returned.
Speechless, said DeJuan Wright, FIU’s leading scorer this past season.
What do I do now...never felt so lost! FIU guard Tanner Wozniak wrote on Twitter moments after the firing was announced. Why?
The simplest answer is that FIU didn’t win.
The school’s last winning season was the 1999-2000 campaign, and its winning percentage of .315 since, according to STATS LLC, is 329th out of 344 Division I men’s programs that competed over the last 12 years.
So FIU turned to Thomas – but never won more than 11 games in any of his three seasons.
We just needed a break here or a break there, and it’s not happening for us, Thomas said last month after FIU’s 8-21 season ended with a loss to Sun Belt tournament champion Western Kentucky.
I know we’re getting there. We’ve had so many close games. If we keep working, good things will happen.
If so, they’ll happen for someone else at FIU.
Garcia and Thomas met Friday morning, and the coach was told of the school’s decision.
University officials said Garcia did not plan to make any further public statement about the decision Friday, only noting that the search for the team’s next coach would begin immediately.
Thomas signed a five-year deal with FIU, taking nothing in base salary for his first season and agreeing to a deal where he would receive nearly half of any gross revenues from ticket sales, commissions collected on food and beverage concessions and sponsorships.
But FIU never generated the buzz that both it and Thomas envisioned. The Panthers averaged 1,071 fans at home this season, nearly four times that many on the road.
Thomas, who led Indiana to the 1981 NCAA championship, was chosen as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players after his career with the Detroit Pistons. His NBA coaching career started with the Indiana Pacers, and during a three-season stint there he never had a losing record and never missed the playoffs.