Florida International University has hired Richard Pitino as the seventh head coach in the history of the school’s men’s basketball program.
FIU Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia made the announcement Monday at a news conference.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Pitino said. “I will pour my heart and soul into this program. FIU and the South Florida community are extremely attractive to student athletes. I know we have a lot to offer both in the classroom and on the court. The sky is the limit with this university.”
Pitino’s hiring was first announced by his father, Louisville Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, on Sunday. The younger Pitino has worked on his father’s staff.
The FIU Panthers have posted 12 straight losing seasons and the school fired Isiah Thomas, a Basketball Hall of Famer, and his staff on April 6, after their 26-65 record in three seasons.
No explanation was given as to why the former star player was fired and some FIU players are so upset they want to be released from their scholarships so they can enroll at other schools, the Associated Press reported.
Two of Thomas’ verbally committed players, Windale Glinton and point guard Ivan Canete, said they will play elsewhere because of his dismissal.
Sophomore forward Dominique Ferguson and freshman center Joey De La Rosa will transfer to another school after this semester. The Miami Herald said they are among five players who asked for early release from their scholarships but have been turned down.
“I came here for Isiah Thomas. I turned down some good schools to play for Coach Thomas. When they fired him, it was like a slap in the face to me, too,” the Herald quoted Ferguson as saying.
The team sent a letter to FIU president Mark Rosenberg and other administrators asking for help in getting those releases and for an explanation of why Thomas was fired. Players have appealed to the NCAA, the Herald reported.
“What is confusing is that if Coach Thomas was fired for losing games, he is not (the) only (one) at fault because we were the ones playing the games,” said part of the letter which the Herald said was emailed to the paper by graduating senior guard DeJuan Wright.
“He was given five years to fix an already existing problem, and then it was cut to three. The team he had coming in next year was young but by far his best class. Neither he nor we got the opportunity to finish what we started and have no explanation as to why our goal was cut short by this university,” the letter said.
“We also ask someone to look into why Coach Thomas and his staff had to be humiliated by being told they were fired and to pack their belongings immediately … with no explanation of what was going on in front of our team and other FIU staff members. It was quite embarrassing for us to witness and hurtful. They deserved a better way to leave …” the letter said.
The letter praised what it said was the emphasis given by Thomas’ coaching staff to mentoring, personal and academic growth.
The players walked out of the FIU Athletic Awards Banquet on April 9 as the men’s basketball portion of the program began.
Pitino most recently served as the Cardinals’ associate head coach after two years as an assistant coach with the team and, earlier, two years with the Florida Gators.
His five-year contract with FIU is worth $250,000 a year in base pay, said to be less than what he got at Louisville, but it gives him an opportunity to lead a program for the first time.
Photo: Isiah Thomas