- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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And so three years after it began, the Florida International basketball stunt is over.
Because that’s really all this ever was -- a public relations grab. Isiah Thomas was not hired for his coaching acumen, certainly. Nor was he chosen for his deep recruiting resources.
He was hired to turn attention to a school that otherwise was known for a football brawl with Miami.
And it worked.
During Thomas’ first summer at FIU, I spent some time with him in Las Vegas while he dipped his toe into the deep end of recruiting. So did plenty of other people, intrigued by the notion of this millionaire and Hall of Famer trying to make a go of it in college basketball’s hinterlands.
The trouble with stunts: Eventually the smoke clears and you’re left with just the mirrors.
FIU went 26-65 with its part-time coach/full-time PR hire, a direct reflection of both Thomas’ coaching inadequacies and his level of job interest -- or more accurately, disinterest.
It’s easy to blame Thomas, but he only threw his name into the ring.
FIU made the hire.
And this was never a hire. This was little more than a fraud perpetrated by a university desperate to gain attention and a man looking to fill time between gigs.
Really, Thomas belonged at Florida International as much as I belong on Nick Saban’s defensive line. He had zero college-coaching experience, and what little coaching experience he had didn’t exactly jump off the résumé as resounding successes.
He had absolutely none of the recruiting contacts necessary to attract kids to a campus trying to make a name for itself -- and the staff he hired was underwhelming to say the least. His sales pitch equated to being able to name a few tenuous NBA contacts that sounded good but offered little in the way of real promise.
That was enough to lure Dominique Ferguson, a one-time top-100 recruit who had interest from all sorts of name-brand schools and instead opted for FIU. In two years, despite playing against competition that rarely sees the likes of his talent, he has yet to average double digits under Thomas’ tutelage.
Frankly, this was little more than a playground for Thomas, a chance to see if he liked this college thing without really giving more than the lip service his employer asked for.
In 2010, he was named a consultant for the New York Knicks, which should have sent red flags to FIU officials about his level of commitment and interest. Most coaches will tell you they don’t have enough time to eat breakfast, let alone consult on the daily activities of an NBA franchise.
Yet FIU didn’t even blink.
In the end, then, both are getting what they deserve: Thomas his pink slip, and the university mud in its eye and a program stuck in the mud.
Head coaching is not brain surgery (except, perhaps, to Jim Boeheim), but it is a full-time job.
And it deserves a full-time coach -- not a stunt.