The University of Houston has a new basketball coach in Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, who will be introduced at a press conference today. Sampson will be the ninth coach in UH history. He will be tasked with rebuilding a program that hasn't won an NCAA tournament game in 30 years.
It's easy to say this is just another UH retread hire after the mediocrity of the Tom Penders and James Dickey eras. But that would be wrong.
It's easy to say he's a rule breaker who got two schools in trouble. That would be short-sighted.
Sampson has had more success than Penders and Dickey combined. During a stretch from 1993-2008 at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, his teams missed the NCAAs one time. In that stretch, UH has made it to the tournament one time.
As for the rules, well even the onerous, overstepping NCAA recognized that what Sampson did was not that bad. (The text violations are not illegal anymore. His big punishment was for lying to the NCAA, which is still against the rules). And let's face it; without that happening, Sampson would have never been available for UH.
In short, Kelvin Sampson is the perfect hire.
A program that was once one of the best in the country has been stuck in nowhere land for three decades. The memories of Phi Slama Jama are simply echoes in a dilapidated arena that is rarely more than half full. Bad hire after bad hire has made the program completely irrelevant.
As mediocre as Dickey's record was (64-62 in four years), he did not leave the cupboard bare. Despite a 17-16 record, the Cougars have the talent right now to contend to be a tournament team. Adding another piece or two -- something Sampson should be able to do -- could make that happen.
Plus, Sampson's years in the NBA can't hurt. He did a terrific job with the Rockets, especially when Kevin McHale was forced to miss time due to personal matters.
The man can simply flat out coach. He makes players better, he adjusts during games, and most importantly, he wins. Frankly, if he can't win at UH, it's unlikely anyone can. And rest assured, Rockets fans should not be thrilled today. He will be missed on a team that has lofty goals this season.
As for UH, the school will need to continue to do its part -- the completion of the new practice facility, and eventually a much needed rebuild of the woefully inadequate Hofheinz.
The fans need to do their part, too. UH fans are notoriously fair weather. They whine incessantly about a perceived lack of respect, but only show up to events when the team is good. The final step in this process is packed houses and a more consistent fan base.
They have no more excuses. A new football stadium and a team that should improve on an 8-5 record. An AD in Mack Rhoades and president in Renu Khator who have improved facilities, tried to make shrewd hires and had a forward-thinking vision for the university.
And finally, a legitimate basketball coach who can and will take the program to the next level.
Yes, Kelvin Sampson is that kind of hire for the Cougars.
In fact, the perfect hire.