If there's a more inappropriate coaching fit in college basketball -- hell, maybe all of college sports -- than Isiah Thomas at Florida International, I'd love for somebody to mention it. I don't believe for a second that it exists.
It's been a long, strange road for Isiah, who turned a legendary professional career into a run as Indiana Pacers head coach, despite never having previously coached basketball. After getting fired there, he went on to run the New York Knicks into the ground over a five-year period until he was fired there in 2008.
A year later, the mind-boggling news emerged that Isiah Thomas was going to take over as the head coach of the Florida International Golden Panthers. After an appropriately bizarre press conference (you know, the one where one of the 50 best players in NBA history was introduced as Isiah Thompson), things have gone about as well as you'd expect them to have gone, which is to say that they've gone pretty terribly.
The Golden Panthers went 7-25 in Isiah's first campaign as head coach, when it was announced that Isiah was going to serve, simultaneously, as a consultant to the same New York Knicks that were still attempting to dig out of the mess he left for them. After being told that he'd be in violation of NBA rules, Isiah focused his full attention on year two at FIU, which produced a slightly less dismal 11-19 mark.
When year three began, it appeared that the Golden Panthers may have turned the corner, starting out the season with a victory over George Mason. But since then, things have bottomed out -- a pair of losses to SWAC teams, followed by a Black Line upset at the hands of Texas Wesleyan, left FIU reeling at 3-6.
As I walked up to the Comcast Center on Wednesday night to see the Golden Panthers take on the Maryland Terrapins, my friend, a Knick fan, turned to me and made it abundantly clear that he was going to boo whenever he got the chance. He wasn't alone. Maryland has a large number of students from the New York/New Jersey area, and apparently a good number of them made it out to the game. The result? Despite lackluster attendance, the only coach I've ever heard booed as much as Isiah during the pregame introductions was Mike Krzyzewski.
FIU was left unfazed, however, and took a seven-point lead into halftime. I turned to my friend, shocked, and he responded rather coolly.
"Don't worry. I know Isiah. They'll find a way to blow it."
The first four minutes of the second half didn't prove any more promising, and at the media timeout, I again turned to my friend.
"Don't worry!" he repeated. "It's ISIAH! They'll find a way to blow it."
Maryland finally took the lead back with about 5:30 to go, but couldn't put it out of reach. The Terrapins had the chance to ice the game with a pair of free throws with five seconds left, and missed both. That would have left the door open for the Golden Panthers, but they somehow forgot to grab the rebound. The Maryland put-back ensured that there would be no upset on this night.
"I told you so!" declared my friend. "Never, ever trust a lead with Isiah."
Maybe my friend overstates things, but there's a mounting pile of evidence that causes you to think he's right. It's not hard to think that in the near future, FIU will feel the same way, and Isiah Thomas will yet again find himself out of a job.
At which point, somehow, somewhere, this saga will probably play itself out again. Because, well, it's Isiah.
at MARYLAND 65, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 61 12/14/2011
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 3-7 (0-0) -- J. Allen 7-12 0-0 18; P. Taylor 7-14 5-7 20; D. Ferguson 3-15 0-0 6; T. Akomolafe 1-3 2-2 4; G. Dierickx 2-5 1-1 5; D. Wright 2-5 1-2 6; R. Pack 1-2 0-0 2; D. Hill 0-1 0-0 0; C. Bell 0-0 0-0 0; T. Wozniak 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 9-12 61. MARYLAND 6-3 (0-0) -- N. Faust 3-7 3-6 9; S. Mosley 5-11 2-3 12; T. Stoglin 4-13 11-13 20; J. Padgett 1-4 0-0 2; A. Pankey 5-9 3-4 13; B. Weijs 2-2 0-0 4; M. Parker 1-2 2-4 4; J. Auslander 0-1 1-2 1; J. Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-50 22-32 65.
Three-point goals: FIU 6-15 (J. Allen 4-7; R. Pack 0-1; D. Wright 1-2; F. Dominique 0-2; P. Taylor 1-3), UMD 1-10 (S. Mosley 0-3; T. Stoglin 1-4; N. Faust 0-2; J. Thomas 0-1); Rebounds: FIU 26 (F. Dominique 6), UMD 31 (J. Padgett 7); Assists: FIU 8 (P. Taylor 7), UMD 9 (T. Stoglin 3); Total Fouls -- FIU 22, UMD 13; Fouled Out: FIU-None; UMD-None.