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Isiah Thomas to coach at Florida International?

With his reputation so badly tattered in the NBA after five years of failure and controversy with the Knicks, Isiah Thomas appears to be focusing on the college level as a place where he will find his next opportunity. The former Knicks president and coach, who remains employed by the franchise (though without an official title), is believed to be considering an offer to become coach of the struggling mid-major Florida International program.

A person with knowledge of the school's search told The Associated Press last night that FIU was "very hopeful" that a deal could be closed with Thomas this morning. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Thomas has informed Knicks president Donnie Walsh of the FIU interest.

Thomas, 47, has spent most of the season in the background after once again becoming the subject of tabloid headlines when he allegedly nearly overdosed on sleeping pills in October. But he resurfaced in March when he was seen scouting for the Knicks at the Pac-10 Tournament and then appeared on an NCAA Tournament preview show hosted by Billy Packer.

Thomas also was seen at the Final Four in Detroit.

FIU director of athletics Pete Garcia fired coach Sergio Rouco Mondayafter five seasons in which he compiled a 55-94 record. The Panthers, who play in the Sun Belt Conference, were 13-20 this season. The SBC recently has attracted coaching reclamation projects, with former St. John's coach Mike Jarvis at Florida Atlantic and former LSU coach John Brady at Arkansas State.

FIU spokesman Rich Kelch told Newsday last night that he "can neither confirm nor deny any rumor about our next coach."

From the day Thomas was stripped of his titles and responsibilities with the Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - Walsh gave him permission to seek other opportunities. Thomas has one year left on a three-year extension Garden chairman James Dolan gave him late in the 2006-07 season.

Before the FIU discussions, Thomas earlier this season approached Clippers owner Donald Sterling to inquire about a front-office position. Sterling met with Thomas, but the conversation was mostly exploratory and nothing materialized.

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