Isiah Thomas is a complex man. To many, during his college coaching career at Florida International, it appeared that Thomas was simply biding his time until he was re-hired by the Knicks in some capacity. His name routinely and oddly surfaced as a behind-the-scenes player in some of New York’s recent personnel moves and his Florida International teams didn’t win very many games, so his firing last week didn’t seem all that surprising. Except to his players, via Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg:
When Thomas called a team meeting Friday afternoon following a routine spring workout, Wozniak said players thought it might be to finalize plans for Easter brunch on Sunday. Instead the coach walked in with a dazed look on his face and announced to the team, “I want to let you know that I have been let go and the whole entire staff has too.”
“Everyone was stunned,” Wozniak. “We didn’t know what to think at first. He was saying his good byes to everyone and everybody took it pretty hard. It was a pretty hard time because we all loved him as a coach. He was there for us every time.”
The perception of Thomas during his stint at FIU has always been that his hiring was more of a publicity stunt than anything else. As the losses mounted, skeptics questioned why FIU would put faith in a man with no prior recruiting experience, limited success as a coach and seemingly as much interest in reestablishing a foothold with the New York Knicks as building the Golden Panthers into a winner.
Although Wozniak understands the criticism because Thomas didn’t win, he also insists the perception of his coach’s lack of commitment to FIU is unfair. Wozniak noted that Thomas always had an open door when his players needed advice, always emphasized academics and has even checked in with all his players this weekend to make sure they’re handling the upheaval.
The players voiced their displeasure with Thomas’ firing at the end of year banquet, when they quietly got up and walked out in front of the podium as someone was speaking. Power move. I like it.