- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Give it up for the Florida International Panthers: For a program that hasn't posted a winning record in the past 12 seasons, FIU has no problem landing "name" coaches.
Of course, the Isiah Thomas experiment always felt more like a public relations-inspired sideshow than a legitimate hire. Thomas had one foot out of the door during his entire time at FIU; the rumors of his involvement with the New York Knicks from afar never truly ceased, and if anything only increased, as it became clear Thomas wasn't remotely invested in a long, arduous rebuilding process. At some point, after the bemused headlines faded away, the PR grab wasn't even worth its own headlines -- mostly because it failed to generate any. We all stopped paying attention. Ho hum.
Now, as FIU seeks to quell the popular player uprising that took root after Thomas's April 6 dismissal, FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia gone again to the public relations well. The difference, at least this time, is that their latest attention-grabbing coaching hire might actually be able to, you know, coach.
On Sunday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino told ESPN's Andy Katz that his son, Cardinals assistant Richard Pitino, would leave his father's staff to take over at FIU. The Panthers refused to confirm the deal Sunday, and no one returned correspondence, but Pitino was already eulogizing the time spent with his son, which included this season's unexpected run to the Final Four:
"You know I'm delighted, but I'm going miss (him) terribly," Rick Pitino said. "I think one of the great things in 35 years of coaching was spending three years with him. Watch him grow as a basketball coach, and you sort of don't want it to end."
[...] "It's his opportunity," Rick Pitino said. "It was his decision, not that I was against it. But I would have loved to been with him a few more years."
Richard Pitino came back to Louisville this season after two years spent as an assistant coach under Billy Donovan at Florida. He has also worked at Duquesne, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. As such, FIU may have just done about as well as it possibly could in hiring Thomas's replacement. The younger Pitino brings his name with him, so he has that public relations advantage, but he is also a legitimate college basketball coach in training, one who spent much of the past decade breaking down tape and learning under two of the nation's most successful college hoops coaches, one of which just so happens to be his father.
It's a win-win for FIU. Indeed, given the Thomas disaster, Richard Pitino -- inexperienced as a head coach though he may be -- might still be the absolute best possible scenario for a program hasn't broken the .500 mark, let alone made it to an NCAA tournament, in over a decade.
At the very least, however Richard Pitino performs, it can't possibly go worse than the past three years. It's a step in the right -- and an entirely more sane -- direction.