There's no question that there is a ton of pressure on DePaul's Jerry Wainwright to win this season. The Blue Demons head coach has appeared in almost every preseason publication as a coach on the hot seat. That's what happens when you go 0-18 in the Big East.
For some people the situation has already moved on to asking who will be the next coach at DePaul, and one surprising name has already surfaced at least twice. Today in his Opening Night Impressions Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn wrote that current Florida International University head coach Isiah Thomas would be interested in the DePaul job. The money quote:
"It's difficult to fully believe [Thomas'] talk about "building" a program,
though, when in most hoops circles it's thought that Thomas would jump
at the DePaul job were it offered to him next spring, making his FIU
run effectively one-and-done."
This isn't a particularly new idea, in fact CBS' Gary Parrish floated the idea at the end of October, but reading it again at the beginning of college basketball season made me wonder. Would Isiah Thomas be a good fit at DePaul?
The name Isiah Thomas causes Knicks fans, Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and Indiana Pacers fans to cringe in fear. For all the skill and basketball acumen Thomas showed as a National Title (where he was Most Outstanding Player) and NBA Championship (where he was a Finals MVP) winning point guard, it hasn't really translated as a basketball coach, general manager or executive.
Thomas has a career NBA coaching record of 187-223 in five seasons as a head coach in the NBA. After last night's - very much expected - loss to North Carolina his collegiate coaching record now stands at 0-1. (And then there's the not so expected exhibition loss to NAIA Northwood.)
It's quite obvious at this point that Thomas hasn't quite figured out how to get the most out of his players as a coach. Whatever motivated him as a player doesn't seem to motivate the men and teenagers he's coaching, but they sure are attracted to him.
Thomas' biggest draw is as a recruiter. Florida International - which plays in the Sun Belt Conference - has managed to attract the attention of many top recruits, including former DePaul recruit Dominique Ferguson. It's not because of the sunny beaches either, FIU has had those for years and never managed to attract that caliber of athlete, it's because Thomas - for all his flaws - still appears to be able to walk into a room and charm a crowd.
Would Thomas' superior recruiting make up for his flaws as a head coach? That's the question, but it really breaks down into two separate narratives. Would he be able to attract the talent necessary to compete in the Big East? Certainly. Would he be able to nurture the players that form the backbone of a program, those three and four year veterans? I doubt it.
Sure he's a hot name, but if Wainwright does get served his walking papers at the end of the season, DePaul needs to find someone more accomplished than a one-and-done collegiate coach with a below .500 professional coaching record.