Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Job Market

I have (at least) two friends out of work right now. Good friends. Who are good workers. Smart people who have succeeded at previous jobs. I've also worried about my own job during the past few months as well. And, not because I waste too much time writing on this website for so few people. And not because I'm not good passable at what I do. I've had to worry because my company, like many, was considering layoffs as a means of dealing with the recession. As a means of saving some jobs. My boss even told several of us that if the hammer came down that it wouldn't have anything to do with performance or even that he didn't have the work for us. I actually began studying for the GRE just in case I needed a Plan B. Because what better strategy is there when faced with job loss than to seek out a massive debt load while gaining training in a field - journalism - that is dying?

But this post isn't about me. Or my unemployed friends. It's about Isiah Thomas. Who has found himself again gainfully employed after being gainfully, sort-of unemployed. The deposed Knicks coach and executive just inked a five-year pact to coach men's basketball at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. It's official. And the Internets came alive with derision. It was the hiring that launched a thousand blog posts. Which is logical (and was humorous) given Isiah's dismal track record being in charge of anything while not wearing short shorts. But, seriously, this move is sensible for FIU. It's even clever. After all, they have been mentioned on Sportscenter, in my office and in my kitchen within the past week. Quite a treble. And, all of this media attention leads directly into the opening of recruiting season. Which is today. Well played, FIU.

“We are excited to have Isiah Thomas join the FIU family,” said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. “This is bigger than basketball and bigger than athletics. Having a nationally-recognized coach like Isiah at FIU will have a positive impact on our university as a whole, helping us achieve additional national exposure.”

For once, here is a quote from a higher up that actually means what it says. And says what the person means. The endgame here is "achieve additional national exposure." No form of the word "win" appears in this quote. There is no talk about conference titles. No warning for the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky University, who are currently the cream of the Sun Belt Conference, where FIU finished 8th last season. Not even a shot across the bow of the University of Denver, who finished two games ahead of FIU last season in the conference. Because this hire is not about winning. It's about the very existence of the press conference when the quote was uttered. It's about this post on this random blog. It's about exposure and the profile of the program. And, that's all. This isn't about winning the Sun Belt Conference or trying to upset the balance of collegiate sporting power in Miami. This is about big smiles and media coverage. Which is why Isiah Thomas is perfect for the job. He's the only coach that I've ever seen call a time out before an out-of-bounds play only to send his team back on the floor without a play called.

All lack of coaching acumen aside, I would imagine that the caliber of athlete that FIU is able to recruit improves significantly under Isiah. He's a name brand. He's a Hall of Famer. And he's got that Chesire grin that should serve him well in living rooms on recruiting visits. The team, therefore, will improve. By sheer force of the athleticism they'll win some games that they historically would have lost. Through the power of belief instilled in them by their pathologically self-confident coach they'll overcome teams with a more realistic self-image. The Golden Panthers of Florida International will do these things and will creep towards the .500 mark next season. They season after that they will have a winning record by virtue of their weak conference and some even easier non-conference games. And they will threaten in the Sun Belt Conference, powered by swagger. Everything that was wrong with the derivatives market before we knew it was wrong will be wrong with this team. They might even play a game with a berth in the NCAA tournament on the line. They will lose in the conference tournament final, though. Oh, yes. This will happen. But after dropping that game they will be gifted a spot in the National Invitational Tournament. It's not the Big Dance but it's something special. Especially at FIU. Antiquated and belittled, the NIT is still special because the semis and the finals are played at Madison Square Garden.

If there were Vegas odds on FIU reaching the NIT semifinals in the next five years then I would surely take that bet. It's going to happen. Isiah will have to return to the Garden. He'll have to return to the site of his crime like criminals are supposedly want to do. He'll have to come back and pass the security personnel and parking attendants who remember the way he left. He'll have to come back and stroll the sideline like he once did. Or, at least he'll have to sit forlornly in a folding chair like he once did. He'll have to listen to the media that will descend on the place for his return. And, he'll have to return to hear the catcalls of disgruntled Knicks fans that will surely rain down from the stands. He'll have to return to face me. I'll dust off my old "Fire Isiah" t-shirt. And, I'll be there. Just like any NIT semi-final, I'll buy the cheapest seat upstairs and then move down once the game tips off.

It is fated. The moment will happen. And, FIU will get rolled. And, I'll revel in it. Oh, yes. I will. But, still that moment will validate FIU President Modesto A. Maidique's hiring of Thomas. Because he will take them some place they've never been before. And, I'm fine with that. Because, for the first time in a long time, someone else is taking advantage of Isiah rather than him taking advantage of others.

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