FIU's Bad Boy Takes the Helm

Isiah Thomas says he is so stoked about being the FIU coach, he plans on giving back his first year's salary

Getting an NBA Hall of Famer to coach your basketball team for free could be a good or a bad thing.

It may show that Isiah Thomas is so serious about taking the FIU basketball program from Sun Belt doormat to perennial NCAA tourney contender that he is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Or, it could merely be a public relations gesture that will backfire in the Golden Panthers' face. Why would Thomas work hard if he isn't getting paid for it?

Either way, Thomas was introduced Wednesday as the new bad boy on campus to quite a bit of student and media fan fare.

"I did not come here for the money," Thomas said.

That's partly because the New York Knicks are still paying him $12 million over the next to years to stay away from the organization.

Still, the Hall of Famer has already done more than earn his money's worth in putting FIU on the national map, even if it is just for the small school's 15 minutes of fame.

ESPN and every other sports network has been covering the story since FIU fired, err, reassigned, its former coach on Monday. No college team without a winning season in almost a decade has received this much coverage in the history of the NCAA.

At the press conference introducing him as coach, Thomas reflected on his past failures as a coach, GM and executive, but painted a silver lining for the Golden Panthers. The two rings on his fingers and a Hall of Fame bust proves Thomas knows what he is doing between those four white lines on the court, he said.

"When you rise all the way to the top of your profession, no matter who you are, the journey to the top is great," Thomas said. "And then you've got to come down, whether you're the president of the United States or the president of the university or you're the top coach in basketball or the top player."

Thomas also answered questions about his troubles off the court, most notably the allegations of sexual harassment tossed his way while he was an executive with the Knicks. The organization ultimately paid $11.6 million a woman who claimed to be the target of Thomas' sexual advances.

Thomas told the throngs of local and national media at the presser that he took the FIU job because he enjoys challenges. He said he talked to Bob Knight, his former coach at Indiana, and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, about what it took to build college programs.

"I like rolling up my sleeves. I like taking some from the bottom and building it to the top. There's a lot of risk in that and there is also a lot of reward in that. But that's how I grew up.," he said. "I want to take FIU to the next level and I know it's going to take a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to pay the price to do that."

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said he has a personal relationship with Thomas, and was convinced that despite all the drama that followed him in New York, he was convinced the Golden Panthers got the right man to take their program "to the highest level."

"It's a landmark day in our history," Garcia said.

Even though Thomas won't be get a check this year, let's hope the university doesn't pay the ultimate price if the gamble doesn't pay off.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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