J Pat Carter, Associated Press
MIAMI — Florida International has fired men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas, after the Hall of Fame player went 26-65 in three seasons.
Thomas took over at FIU in a surprising move in 2009, one that gave the former New York Knicks coach and president a chance to restore the reputation he tarnished through a series of embarrassments in New York.
Under Thomas, FIU never won more than 11 games in a season.
Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement released by the university, FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said the school has "decided to take the program in a different direction."
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.
"We just needed a break here or a break there, and it's not happening for us," Thomas said last month, shortly after FIU's 8-21 season ended with a loss to eventual 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."
A month later, FIU made the call to go another way. Garcia and Thomas met Friday morning, and the coach was told of the school's decision.
Thomas helped the Detroit Pistons win two NBA championships as one of the all-time great point guards, then coached the Indiana Pacers before taking over in New York, where he found hard times both on and off the court — he endured legal and personal troubles off the court, and "Fire Isiah" chants were common at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks never won a playoff game in his tenure as president or coach, but he saw FIU as a chance to turn his fortunes around.
"I've had my ups and downs," Thomas said when FIU hired him in 2009. "But don't expect me to just stay down, because that's not happening."
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