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Isiah Thomas accepts Fla. International coaching job

Isiah Thomas' days with the Knicks are over.

Thomas has accepted the coaching job at Florida International University, the school confirmed in a statement Tuesday morning. FIU will hold a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Thomas spent Monday night mulling the offer and is apparently intrigued by the school's South Florida location. He's been in an untitled role with the Knicks since he was relieved of his basketball operations and coaching duties following the 2007-08 season, serving mostly as a scout for Knicks president Donnie Walsh.

"I'm happy for him," Walsh said. "He's back in basketball in an active way as a coach and I think it's a great thing for him. It's kind of what I wanted for him the day I let him go."

Walsh said Thomas had permission from the team to seek other opportunities and, therefore, did not need to ask Walsh each time something came up. Walsh initially heard of Thomas' interest in the FIU job when the two were in Italy earlier this month scouting the Eurocup tournament.

"He really wanted to do this," Walsh said. "In going to those tournaments, I could tell he really feels like he can help younger players."

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.

Toward the end of the 2007-08 season, when it was becoming clearer that his days leading the Knicks -- who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday --were over, Thomas didn't slam the door shut on possibly coaching on the collegiate level.

"Coming back to the college game has always been a dream of mine, and I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to go somewhere where we can build a basketball legacy together," Thomas said in a statement.

During his five seasons as an NBA coach, Thomas compiled a record of 187-233 and posted an ugly 56-108 mark in two seasons. 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.

At FIU, he'll replace Sergio Ruoco, who was fired yesterday after going 55-94 in five seasons. The Panthers finished up with a 13-20 record this past season.

"We are very excited to have such a legendary athlete and proven winner in Isiah Thomas to lead our men's basketball program," FIU Director of Athletics Pete Garcia said in a statement. "There is no doubt that Isiah will give FIU a tremendous opportunity to take the basketball program to the highest level."

Thomas would be the latest "big-name" coach to land in the Sun Belt Conference. Mike Jarvis, the former St. John's and George Washington University coach, is now at Florida Atlantic and John Brady, who guided LSU to the Final Four in 2006, is coaching Arkansas State.

FIU is hardly a national power but it has turned out NBA players, such as Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo.

There are only six players remaining on the roster from Thomas' era with the Knicks: David Lee, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, Jared Jeffries, Eddy Curry and Quentin Richardson.

"It's good to see him back in coaching and back in basketball," said Richardson, the most tenured Knick. "That's where he belongs. I'm happy he's getting another shot at coaching."


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