|ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball||[Print without images]|
Kelvin Sampson is taking over as Houston's new basketball coach, vowing that NCAA compliance will be his staff's highest priority.
Sampson committed numerous NCAA violations regarding impermissible calls to recruits at both Oklahoma and Indiana, resulting in a five-year show cause order from the NCAA in 2008 that effectively barred him from coaching in college. That order expired last year.
"From Day 1, I've taken responsibility for what happened, even though the rules are different now," Sampson told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "They were in place then. At Oklahoma, the phone calls we made were impermissible. We had a staff of four coaches and they looked at phone calls over a 60-month period. We made some. We move on. You admit mistakes, you pay a penalty and that's what we did.''
Sampson didn't shy away from his checkered past when he was introduced Thursday as the successor to James Dickey, who resigned last month citing family issues.
Sampson opened his comments in Houston by saying: "Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, while I don't agree with all the conclusions that the NCAA made, I respect their decision and respect the NCAA as an institution."
Though Sampson touched on his past troubles on Thursday, he wasn't exactly thrilled at repeated questions about his NCAA violations.
"I'm excited about the future," he said. "That stuff is in the past -- all of it."
He takes over a program with a rich history that has fallen on tough times in the last two decades. The Cougars have made 19 NCAA tournaments, but just one of those appearances has come since 1992 and they finished 17-16 this season. These Cougars are far removed from the Phi Slama Jama teams starring Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Clyde Drexler in the 1980s that made five Final Four trips, including three in a row from 1982-84.
Sampson, 58, had been serving as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets since 2011. He also previously was part of the staff with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"I learned a lot in the NBA," he said. "I was with three great coaches -- Pop (Gregg Popovich) in San Antonio, Scott (Skiles) in Milwaukee and Kevin (McHale) here (in Houston). I had been a head coach my entire career. The one thing that young coaches should do is if there is an NBA team in your area, get to training camp and see the coaching that goes on. Just ask Brad Stevens. There are incredible decisions made in a 48-minute game with a 24-second shot clock and the last two minutes of a game. I'm a significantly better coach today than I was before I went to the NBA.''
Sampson previously had been a Division I coach at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana. He took WSU to the NCAA tournament in 1994 and went to 11 NCAA tournaments in 12 seasons at Oklahoma (including a Final Four in 2002). He was at Indiana for two seasons before being fired.
"I wasn't thinking about getting back into college (coaching)," he said. "I had profound things happen to me in 2014. My mother died Jan. 14. My father died on Feb. 18. I know how much my father loved following our teams. I was on a West Coast trip on Sunday the 16th, and one of the things I talked to him at length of was about me getting back to college. That resonated with me.''
Athletic director Mack Rhoades said they fully vetted Sampson and have no concerns about him.
"Not after we sat down and talked and did all the research we did and we got to know him," Rhoades said. "He was completely honest, candid, transparent, remorseful. (He) knew that he'd made mistakes and we've got great, great comfort with Kelvin Sampson being our head coach."
He believes that Sampson can help get the program back to where it once was.
"It was one of those cases where it was just a perfect match," Rhoades said. "We hit it off and I think he believes in what we're trying to get done at this university."
Sampson said he's excited to have his son, Kellen, on the Cougars staff. Kellen Sampson recently was let go at Appalachian State when coach Jason Capel was fired.
"I'm really looking forward to working with him," Kelvin Sampson said. "He has a chance to be good. I love his energy. Any time you work with your son it's special. I don't know how long I'm going to coach. I've got a five-year contract. It might be longer. I don't know.''
Sampson is popular with players and fellow coaches alike, and Rockets All-Star James Harden and point guard Patrick Beverley were on campus Thursday for his introduction at Houston.
"To see him going back to what he loves in a head coaching job is amazing," Harden said. "He's a great coach, tremendous head coach and I'm glad he has another opportunity at it."
Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.