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Isiah Thomas defends himself against claims that FIU’s postseason ban is his fault

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Isiah Thomas (Getty Images)

One day after the NCAA announced Florida International will be ineligible for the 2013-14 postseason due to poor Academic Progress Rate scores, former coach Isiah Thomas defended himself against accusations he's at fault.

Thomas penned a Huffington Post blog entry in which he emphasized that he repeatedly stressed the importance of education to his players during his three-year tenure at FIU from 2009 to 2012. He also noted that some of FIU's APR problems stem from the transfer of seven scholarship players in protest of his firing last year.

"This had the biggest effect on FIU's APR, not grades but retention," Thomas wrote. "In fact, many of the students who wanted to transfer were told that they would not be given their releases because it would affect FIU's APR. Seven scholarship students left in anger without getting a release, thus plummeting the APR score.

"That is the explanation of FIU's APR and current NCAA ban from post-season play, but it is not an examination of my record with the school's players. Of the 21 players I worked with, I am very proud to say that 19 of those young men graduated."

Thomas' blog post comes one day after Garcia appeared to pin the blame on him with a thinly veiled statement defending current coach Anthony Evans and Thomas' successor, Richard Pitino. Said Garcia, "It’s important to understand that the student-athletes and coaches who are serving this postseason ban had no part in the actions which led to the punishment."

That statement is certainly true, but there's also some merit to Thomas' point as well.

FIU's APR scores during the first two years of Thomas' tenure were 910 and 909, just above the NCAA's minimum standard at the time of 900 though well below the current threshold of 930. As Thomas noted, the score only plummeted to 858 after the 2011-12 season when a bevy of players transferred or turned pro unexpectedly out of anger over the firing of Thomas.

Though Thomas' dismissal was certainly justifiable considering he went 26-65 and failed to win more than 11 games in any single season, athletic director Pete Garcia did a poor job assuaging Thomas' former players concerns.

At FIU's end-of-the-year banquet in the basketball team's honor, players protested the firing of Thomas by getting up from their table, walking in a single-file line in front of the podium and exiting the building en masse. Former guard Tanner Wozniak told Yahoo! Sports last year that players liked Thomas because he always was willing to offer advice, always emphasized academics and even checked in with all his players after his firing to make sure they were handling the upheaval.

"He was a great coach, a mentor and a father figure to us," Wozniak said. "He didn't have a winning record, but you can't build a program in three years."

The bottom line is that Thomas is probably right he's not fully to blame here. Granted his three-year tenure was disastrous on the floor and that Richard Pitino instantly turned around the program in one season, but it's not fair to make Thomas the lone scapegoat for FIU's 2013-14 postseason ban.

In fact, if anyone deserves to share the blame with Thomas, it's Garcia, who was all too quick to pass the buck on Wednesday.

It was Garcia who made the ill-fated decision to hire Thomas in 2009, even going so far as to boast that his new coach would "take the basketball program to the highest level." It was Garcia who somehow stood by Thomas in 2010 when the coach tried to take a consulting job with the New York Knicks while still working at FIU. And it was Garcia who couldn't persuade Thomas' players to remain with the program after his firing last year long enough to even find out who the new coach would be.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Battle of L.A. turns to middle school for reinforcements
Florida's top basketball recruit not academically eligible
Low-budget schools again get short end of APR measuring stick

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