LUTZ, Fla. – After firing Isiah Thomas, Florida International is set to replace him with another recognizable name.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Sunday that his son Richard Pitino is leaving his staff with the Cardinals to become the next coach at FIU, which has posted 12 straight losing seasons. FIU fired Thomas, a Basketball Hall of Fame player, on April 6 after going 26-65 in three seasons.
FIU refused to confirm that Pitino and the Panthers had agreed on a deal, and players had not yet been told of the move by any school officials as of Sunday afternoon.
"You know I'm delighted, but I'm going miss (him) terribly," Rick Pitino said. "I think one of the great things in 35 years of coaching was spending three years with him. Watch him grow as a basketball coach, and you sort of don't want it to end."
Rick Pitino spoke Sunday after completing play in the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am. FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia did not return phone calls, text messages and email seeking comment, and he has not spoken publicly since firing Thomas.
Richard Pitino also did not return messages.
"It's his opportunity," Rick Pitino said. "It was his decision, not that I was against it. But I would have loved to been with him a few more years."
Richard Pitino spent this past season back with the Cardinals and helped them to the Final Four after working for the previous two years as an assistant at Florida. Richard Pitino also was a Louisville assistant from 2007 through 2009, plus has worked at Duquesne, Northeastern and the College of Charleston.
Rick Pitino was 25 when he landed his first college coaching job. At 29, his son is about to get his first chance to run a program. The younger Pitino was a candidate to coach at Florida Gulf Coast last year, before deciding to go back to Louisville and work for his father.
Thomas' firing has created a sense of disarray around the Panthers' program. Two of Thomas' verbally committed players said late last week they would play elsewhere because of his dismissal, and an unknown number of FIU players have asked Garcia to be released from their scholarships so they can enroll at other schools. The players say FIU has declined those release requests.
The Panthers were 8-21 this past season.