Houston introduced Kelvin Sampson as their men's basketball coach on Thursday, confident that he can bring the once-proud program back to prominence and undeterred by his past improprieties with the NCAA.
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 which effectively barred him from coaching in college. That order expired last year.
On Thursday, Sampson vowed that NCAA compliance will be his staff's highest priority and didn't shy away from his checkered past when he was introduced as the successor to James Dickey, who resigned last month citing family issues.
"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," Sampson said in his opening comments.
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 which made five Final Four trips, including three in a row from 1982-84.
Sampson, who has been an assistant with the Houston Rockets since 2011, coached Oklahoma from 1994-2006 and Indiana from 2006-08. He made 11 NCAA tournaments during his tenure at Oklahoma, reaching the round of 16 in 1999, the Final Four in 2002 and the round of eight in 2003.
The 58-year-old Sampson has a 500-270 in 25 seasons as a head coach with stops at Washington State and Montana Tech in addition to Oklahoma and Indiana. His success on the court is undeniable; the problems came from what happened off the court.
Athletic director Mack Rhoades said they fully vetted Sampson and have no concerns about him because of his checkered past with the NCAA.
"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 was an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks before joining the Rockets and some thought he'd never coach in college again after the show cause order.
"I didn't know if I wanted to coach in college again," he said. "I don't think the question should be did I expect to, it's rather if I wanted to our not? I enjoyed every minute of the six years I spent in the NBA."
Sampson is popular with players and fellow coaches alike and Rockets' All-Star James Harden and point guard Pat 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."