Berry Tramel

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Kelvin Sampson: Should he return to the college game?

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 25, 2014 at 10:10 am •  Published: March 25, 2014
Houston Rockets assistant basketball coach Kelvin Sampson gives direction from the bench during the first half of their NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Sampson was filling in for head coach Kevin McHale who is on family leave. (AP Photo/Don Ryan) ORG XMIT: ORDR108
Houston Rockets assistant basketball coach Kelvin Sampson gives direction from the bench during the first half of their NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. Sampson was filling in for head coach Kevin McHale who is on family leave. (AP Photo/Don Ryan) ORG XMIT: ORDR108

James Dickey resigned as the University of Houston basketball coach Monday, and an espn.com report says the Cougars are interested in Kelvin Sampson. And that Sampson might be interested in the job.

Sampson has been out of the college game since 2008, when he was fired by Indiana for making impermissible phone calls to recruits, the same NCAA violation he and his staff committed at OU. Sampson was given a five-year probation by the NCAA, during which it would have been difficult for any school to hire him.

In the meantime, Sampson has rejuvenated his career as an NBA assistant. He’s the chief lieutenant to Kevin McHale with the Houston Rockets, and Sampson has been mentioned for a few NBA head coaching jobs.

But those are hard to come by. College jobs are not. Not for a proven winner like Sampson.

Should he return to the college game? Only Sampson can answer that. Would he do well? No doubt about it. Sampson took Washington State to the 1994 NCAA Tournament, then took the Sooners to 11 NCAAs in 12 years, including the 2002 Final Four, the 2003 regional final and the 2005 Big 12 championship. His Sooners won three straight Big 12 Tournaments, 2001-03. Sampson is a heck of a college coach.

The only question is, if Sampson wants to return to the campus game, is Houston the spot? Seems like Sampson could get even better jobs.

Like Marquette. Or Wake Forest (he’s a North Carolina native). And who knows what other jobs will come open.

But clearly Sampson is a superb coach. The NBA seemed ill-suited to Sampson, who was a defensive practitioner whose college offenses often lacked firepower. But Sampson has proved his mettle with the pros. He’s served as interim head coach of the Rockets when McHale took a leave of absence for personal reasons.

The truth is, most coaches would prefer to coach in the NBA, because it’s all coaching. No recruiting. No fundraising. No politics. Just coach basketball and manage personalities. That’s awfully tempting for men who love hoops.

But those jobs are hard to get. There are only 30, and there are already-established head coaches who aren’t currently employed that often are interviewed first. Heck, the Nets hired Jason Kidd off the Knicks’ roster, without ever having coached a game in his life. People like George Karl and Lionel Hollins and Nate McMillen don’t have coaching jobs right now. Maybe Sampson would get an NBA offer. But maybe he wouldn’t.

He most definitely will get a college offer, and we know he would do well. The question is, is Houston U. the place? I think he could get a better spot.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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