Thomas' next stop: FIU, as coach

Updated: April 14, 2009, 11:36 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas has accepted Florida International's offer to coach its basketball team, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Andy Katz.

[+] EnlargeIsiah Thomas
D. Lippitt/Einstein/Getty ImagesSources confirm that FIU made calls within the conference recently to check on the viability of hiring Isiah Thomas.

An official announcement is expected later Tuesday. Thomas' representative was in South Florida to finalize the deal, the source said.

A source said Thomas was intrigued by FIU's location in South Florida, its growing football program and the size of its student body (more than 30,000). The source said Thomas was looking for a fresh place to start and that, despite other previous NBA and college opportunities, this is the one that finally piqued Thomas' interest.

Florida International coach Sergio Rouco was fired Monday, and sources confirm that FIU athletic director Pete Garcia made calls within the conference recently to check on the viability of hiring Thomas. The Sun Belt has recently become a second-chance destination; Florida Atlantic hired former St. John's coach Mike Jarvis and Arkansas State hired former LSU coach John Brady.

Rich Kelch, a Florida International spokesperson, wouldn't confirm or deny the school's interest in Thomas (or any other coaching names) to replace Rouco, who was fired after five straight losing seasons, including a 13-20 campaign this season.

Rouco finished with a 55-94 record in five years at FIU, which hasn't finished with a winning record since going 16-14 in the 1999-2000 season.

"We feel that it is now time to move in a different direction," Garcia said Monday. "Sergio will remain in our organization in a different capacity and we look forward to continuing to work with him to further build the FIU program."

In recent years, the Golden Panthers and athletic director Pete Garcia lured Mario Cristobal away from Miami to take over their football program, landed noted college baseball recruiter Turtle Thomas as that program's coach, plus opened an on-campus football stadium and even has made inroads on hosting professional and international soccer matches.

And now, this will be the biggest get yet for FIU: Thomas, who helped the Detroit Pistons win a pair of NBA championships as a point guard, then had success as coach of the Indiana Pacers before things unraveled for him with the Knicks.

A year ago, the Knicks finished 23-59, prompting Thomas' firing. They never won a playoff game in his tenure as president or coach.

Thomas went 56-108 in New York and is 187-223 as an NBA coach, leading the Pacers to the playoffs in three straight years from 2000-03. Once he was hired to run the Knicks, he acquired Stephon Marbury from Phoenix, a move -- much like the one where he gave center Jerome James a $30 million contract -- that never panned out.

And there were off-the-court issues, too.

A jury found that Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders and ordered the company to pay $11.6 million in damages. That, along with the losing, brought on a wave of "Fire Isiah!" chants that would typically start soon after tip-off at MSG.

Then this past October, Thomas found himself dealing with more drama. 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.

Two weeks ago, ESPN.com reported that Thomas spoke with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling about a job. Thomas has two years left on his contract with the Knicks, but has been granted permission to seek work elsewhere.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh was aware Monday night of FIU's interest in hiring Thomas, but the team couldn't specifically say what the status of the contract talks were.

A fresh start for Thomas awaits at FIU, which could clearly use a spark. The Golden Panthers have lost 20 games in three of the last four years.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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