FIU will have a new baseball coach next season after Turtle Thomas resigned Wednesday following his ninth season.
Thomas went 281-240-4 with the Panthers after arriving with much fanfare after a long and successful run as an assistant coach who was known for his recruiting acumen at Miami, Louisiana State and Arizona State.
Thomas is said to have resigned although he had been recruiting recently and was first reported by d1baseball.com as well as Baseball America.
Calls and text messages to Thomas from the Miami Herald were not returned Wednesday.
“For the past nine years, Turtle Thomas has been a valuable member of the FIU family,” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia wrote in a statement released by the school.
“Earlier today, coach Thomas informed me of his decision to step down to pursue other opportunities. We are sorry to see him go. … We thank coach Thomas for his hard work on behalf of our student-athletes and our institution. A national search for the Panthers’ next head baseball coach will begin immediately.”
Thomas was said to be in trouble at FIU after a season in which the Panthers started off by being swept by host Mississippi and ended 29-29 after losing two of three at the Conference USA tournament.
FIU swept UAB and Southern Miss in its final two series of the season to get into the conference tournament.
In nine seasons with FIU, Thomas’ teams went to the NCAA regionals three times, including twice locally in Coral Gables.
Last year, the Panthers won the C-USA tournament and advanced to the Coral Gables regional only to lose the opener to Miami before beating East Carolina and being eliminated by Columbia.
Miami’s 6-0 victory was the first meeting between the two local schools since 2008 as UM coach Jim Morris and Thomas have been at odds since 1999.
A former assistant coach under legendary Miami coach Ron Fraser as well as Morris, Thomas left Miami for LSU following the Hurricanes’ 1999 national championship season. Thomas also was an assistant under Morris at Georgia Tech.
By the time Thomas had returned to Miami with his hiring at FIU, his recruiting classes had been among the top 10 in 18 consecutive seasons.
Thomas replaced longtime FIU coach Danny Price, who had been fired after 28 years at the school. Price currently coaches at Miami Dade College.
“He knows the game, he’s the best recruiter in the country and he knows South Florida,” Garcia, who has known Thomas since their Miami days, said upon Thomas’ hiring on June 14, 2007.
“He will bring excitement and interest to FIU baseball. The journey to Omaha begins today.”
Thomas was part of national-championship teams at Miami and LSU in 1999 and 2000 and was an assistant on 14 teams that advanced to the College World Series.
Thomas was originally hired at Miami by Fraser in 1988 and remained through 1999 and signed the likes of Charles Johnson, Alex Fernandez, Alex Cora and Pat Burrell to UM.
Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones also signed with Miami during Thomas’ tenure but never enrolled after being drafted.
“It can’t be a coincidence that Turtle left a championship program like Miami and came to LSU the next year and helped us win a championship,” said Skip Bertman, the former LSU coach and athletic director as well as a former UM assistant under Fraser, in 2007.
“Turtle will be a winner. There is no doubt about that.”