MIAMI (AP) - Here's a sign of how far Isiah Thomas was willing to go for an opportunity to return to coaching: He will not make a dollar his first year at Florida International.
With that, Thomas' attempt at rebuilding a Hall of Fame image that was badly tarnished over the last couple years got underway.
Thomas' introduction to FIU on Wednesday included the revelation that the former New York Knicks coach and president - who's still owed millions from the NBA team - will donate his salary back to the school for his first season. School officials did not release the exact figure, other than saying it's between $200,000 and $300,000.
"I did not come here for the money," Thomas said.
No, he came to FIU for a new beginning.
Thomas arrived in Miami eager to move beyond the numerous problems that marred his tenure with the Knicks, such as being the central figure in a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2007 and then, according to authorities, being found unconscious in his New York-area home last fall after someone at the residence called 911 to report someone had overdosed on sleeping pills.
He did not offer specifics on either of those events.
"When you rise all the way to the top of your profession, no matter who you are, the journey to the top is great," Thomas said. "And then you've got to come down, whether you're the president of the United States or the president of the university or you're the top coach in basketball or the top player."
Thomas, a Hall of Fame player after his time with the Detroit Pistons, acknowledged that he was disappointed by his tenure with the Knicks.
During his time in New York, Thomas endured legal and personal troubles off the court, and more losses than wins on it. His Knicks were 23-59 a season ago, prompting a firing many fans had long awaited. The Knicks never won a playoff game in his tenure as president or coach, and many of his moves - like acquiring Stephon Marbury - didn't work out as planned.
"My regret is that I wasn't able to deliver what the people in New York wanted, and they want a championship," Thomas said. "A lot of us have tried. ... I couldn't get it done."
His arrival was celebrated in Miami, much in the way his departure was in New York.
Thomas arrived outside FIU's basketball arena at 10:25 a.m. Wednesday, riding passenger in a sleek black Mercedes. Even before he could get out of the car, three well-wishers couldn't wait to greet him.
"Hey! There he is!" shouted one of the men, all of whom got handshakes from Thomas before the car pulled into a parking space.
Thomas said he took the FIU job because he enjoys challenges. He said he talked to Bob Knight, his former coach at Indiana, and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, about what it took to build college programs.
"I like rolling up my sleeves. I like taking some from the bottom and building it to the top. There's a lot of risk in that and there is also a lot of reward in that. But that's how I grew up. I want to take FIU to the next level and I know it's going to take a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to pay the price to do that."
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said he has a personal relationship with Thomas, and was convinced that despite all the drama that followed him in New York, he was convinced the Golden Panthers got the right man to take their program "to the highest level."
"It's a landmark day in our history," Garcia said.
Nonetheless, he was dogged by questions about Thomas' history.
In 2007, a jury ordered Knicks owner Madison Square Garden to pay $11.6 million to a former team executive who alleged she was sexually harassed by Thomas, who continually maintained his innocence and was never found personally liable.
This past October, there was more drama.
Officers responded to Thomas' New York-area home after a 911 call reported someone had overdosed on sleeping pills. According to police reports, officers found a man passed out and gave him oxygen until an ambulance arrived.
Authorities never publicly identified Thomas as the victim, but a person familiar with the case confirmed to the AP that it was Thomas.
Garcia said FIU investigated Thomas and was aware of his history, yet did not reveal specifics of what he found.
"We have mutual friends, we've had them for a long time," Garcia said. "I've known Mr. Thomas for a while. I know Isiah Thomas. And I guarantee one thing, we are getting a great human being."
Thomas will face some immediate challenges: FIU went 13-20 this past season, its third 20-loss campaign in four years, and has not posted a winning record since 1999-2000.
He started moving quickly to fill his roster: Thomas started recruiting preparations Tuesday night, only a few hours after arriving in South Florida.
"There'll be a lot of ups and a lot of downs," Thomas said. "There'll be more ups than downs."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.