Maybe the fourth coach will be the charm.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia on Monday introduced Jeremy Ballard as the Panthers’ new men’s basketball coach. Ballard is FIU’s ninth coach and the fourth under Garcia, who has yet to find a way to stabilize the basketball program.
“We were looking for a system,” Garcia said. “We want to press 48 minutes.”
Garcia, of course, meant 40 minutes, the length of a regulation college basketball game. But, that minor speech miscue aside, you get the point of what the Panthers desire.
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Whether they have or can find the players to successfully run that system in Conference USA is another question.
This will be the first head-coaching job for Ballard, who has been an assistant at his alma mater, Colgate, as well as Tulsa, Virginia Commonwealth, Illinois State, Pitt and VCU for a second go-round.
A native of Atlanta, Ballard said he will run a players’ program.
“This is a dream job,” Ballard said. “I will make [FIU] proud. I’ve always known [FIU] is a sleeping giant.
“We will be in attack mode for 40 minutes. We want to lead the nation in steals, turnovers forced and deflections.”
But, amid the optimism present anytime a new coach is hired, comes the sober reality that FIU has had similar press conferences for basketball coaches named Isaiah Thomas, Richard Pitino and Anthony Evans in recent years.
Garcia fired Sergio Rouco, the coach he inherited, and then signed Thomas to a five-year contract, calling it a “landmark day” for FIU. Three years later, Thomas was fired.
Next came Pitino, who — relatively speaking — was a huge success with an 18-14 record. But he failed to make the NCAA Tournament, losing in the Sun Belt final, and bolted for Minnesota after just 12 months on the job, leaving a bitter taste.
The most recent FIU coach was Evans, who failed to produce a winning season in five years. He went 7-24 and 14-18 in his final two years.
Ballard, for the most part, will have to play with the kids he inherited for 2018-2019, and his first recruiting impact likely won’t be felt until the following season.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s top-seeded women’s tennis team won its first C-USA title on Sunday, earning an automatic NCAA Tournament berth by beating second-seeded Rice 4-3. FIU, ranked 37th in the nation, will find out its playoffs opponent on May 1.
▪ FIU’s beach volleyball team, ranked 10th among the limited number of schools participating in this fairly new sport, lost 5-0 to Florida State on Sunday in the semifinals of the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association. FIU (23-10) is hoping for an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships May 4-6 in Alabama. Bids will be awarded on Sunday.
▪ FIU’s baseball team (18-21, 8-10 C-USA) lost two of three games this past weekend at Texas-San Antonio. Reliever Tyler Myrick (1-2) took the loss in Sunday’s 5-4 loss when he allowed a game-winning single in the 10th inning. FIU plays at the Miami Hurricanes on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
▪ FIU’s softball team (26-23, 10-7) swept a doubleheader from North Texas this past weekend. FIU is tied for third in the league standings and leads the conference in opponents’ batting average (.226), ERA (2.60), fielding percentage and strikeouts pitched.
Individually for FIU, Jackie Schoff leads the league in hits and is fifth in batting average (.374). Pitcher Shannon Saile leads in ERA (1.80), opponents’ batting average (1.56) and strikeouts (232). FIU concludes its home schedule this weekend against Charlotte.