April 16, 2012
Thomas was brought in after many consecutive losing seasons and was never able to turn it around at FIU. He didn’t even come close to a winning season and is leaving with a 26-65 record. Still, even with such little success, Thomas and his players were still shocked by the decision.
FIU wasn’t the only place where Thomas has had trouble, though. He left as an executive with the Toronto Raptors after only a few seasons without accomplishing all that much. Thomas later became the owner of the CBA, but the league quickly became bankrupt shortly after he left. After that, he became the coach of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. While he had some success in Indiana, leading the Pacers to the NBA Playoffs in each season, he couldn’t get the team out of the first round. That, however, was better than what the Knicks accomplished under his tenure – never reaching the postseason in either of his two seasons there.
It was at FIU where Zeke was going to have a fresh start. A Hall of Fame player, there was no reason to think that he couldn’t at least bring the program into respectability. While it’s true that he didn’t have college coaching experience, his name alone meant that he should have been able to recruit reasonably well. But after three straight losing seasons, the administration decided they’d seen enough.
So that begs the question – what’s next for Isiah? Obviously, any number of non-sports business ventures could be available. But if Thomas wants to stay in basketball, his options might be a bit limited.
It’s hard to imagine Zeke will get another head coaching job right away. He’s had limited success in the NBA and virtually none on the collegiate level. Sure, there’s high school or prep school, I suppose. But jobs at the elite high school level are hard to come by and it’s hard to imagine him dropping down that far, anyway.
If Thomas wants to get back into coaching, he may need to accept an assistant job. His best bet may be to land with a team that has a coach almost ready to retire or move on to another job. If he does an admirable job in that role, he could be named as a successor and given another shot.
Another realistic opportunity for Thomas might be as a color commentator. Regardless of what you may think of the job he’s done as an executive or coach, there’s no doubt Thomas knows the game of basketball. Whether he can accurately explain the happenings of a game on TV may be another matter, but I think it’s a role that could work. He also has experience in that job as he previously served as an analyst in the NBA on NBC series with Bob Costas.
Lastly, he could go the front office route. His track record in that arena isn’t particularly impressive, but a job as an assistant or even a scout probably isn’t out of reach. I don’t see an organization handing over the keys to an entire franchise to him as a general manager just yet, but there are any other number of front office roles he could fill.
Where Thomas finally lands is anybody’s guess. But he’s still young enough that the odds of him coming back to basketball in some capacity are high.