Coaches making comebacks

Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson are back in the game

Updated: August 18, 2014, 4:53 PM ET
By Dick Vitale |

I am looking forward to watching the progress of two college basketball coaches returning to the sideline this season.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Sampson
AP Images/Houston Chronicle/Billy Smith IIKelvin Sampson will be asked to turn around a Houston program that has reached the NCAA tournament once since 1992.

Former Tennessee coach and ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl is running the Auburn program. Ex-Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson is in charge of the Houston program.

Pearl and Sampson made mistakes in recruiting and were given show-cause sanctions by the NCAA. They paid the price, and now they will have the opportunity to make a splash. Their presence should make their new situations interesting to watch.

It will be a challenge at both schools.

Pearl was hired to re-energize Auburn. The Tigers were 14-16 last season, including three wins in the final 10 games of the campaign. Auburn has suffered five straight losing seasons; the last time the team finished over .500 was 2008-09, when Jeff Lebo led the Tigers to a 24-win season.

Pearl owned up to his sins with the NCAA violation. He's back and ready for this task. Pearl pulled off miracles at Southern Indiana, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee, making 17 NCAA appearances in 19 years and taking the Vols to six straight trips to the Big Dance. He has an impressive winning percentage in excess of 76 percent.

[+] EnlargeBruce Pearl
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesAuburn fans have given new men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl an enthusiastic welcome.

Auburn needed to make a splash to get the fans fired up. Pearl's success in the SEC created an enthusiastic response to his hiring. He made a great move by bringing back The Rifleman, former Auburn star Chuck Person, to his coaching staff. He also brought in former Vols assistant Tony Jones. He has also built a more competitive nonconference schedule and added a number of transfers, including scoring whiz Antoine Mason from Niagara, who was second in the nation in scoring in 2013-14.

Sampson, who coached Oklahoma to the NCAA Final Four in 2002, was given a five-year show-cause penalty and fired from Indiana in 2008 after the NCAA discovered major violations involving impermissible phone calls to recruits. Sampson went to the NBA, where he spent time as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets. Once his penalty ended in 2013, he was back in the NCAA's good graces and landed at Houston. I have always been impressed with his ability to motivate, inspire and teach the game of basketball.

His track record on the court speaks for itself. As a head coach, his teams recorded 12 straight 20-plus-win seasons. Sampson inherits a team that went 17-16 last season.

This clearly will be a rebuilding job; the Cougars lost their top three scorers from last year's team.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to


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