If there’s a smudge — or even the hint of one — on new Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades’ resume during his five years at Houston, it might be the hiring of Kelvin Sampson last spring as Houston’s basketball coach.
Rhoades signed Sampson, the former Oklahoma and Indiana coach, to a five-year deal in April less than a year after his five-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA expired.
Sampson, who was an assistant coach for the Rockets at the time he was hired, made several hundred impermissible calls to recruits with the Sooners and Hoosiers.
The rule has since been changed, but the NCAA also accused Sampson of lying to investigators about those calls in handing down its harsh punishment.
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Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said he discussed Rhoades’ decision to hire Sampson at length during the interview process.
“I was satisfied that he did his due diligence,” Loftin said. “He actually looked carefully and talked to all the right people and to the coach himself about expectations.”
Sampson worked for the Spurs after he was fired at Indiana before serving as an NBA assistant with the Bucks and Rockets.
“Mack satisfied me, after a really in-depth discussion about what he went through as a process, that he asked all the right questions — not only of the coach himself, but those around the coach — to make sure his hire was a good hire,” Loftin said.
Sampson’s coaching acumen has never been a question. He is 510-290, including a 12-18 record with the Cougars ahead of the American Athletic Conference tournament, in 26 seasons at Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana and Houston.
At Oklahoma, Sampson’s teams won at least 20 games in 10 seasons and reached the NCAA tourney 11 times, including a Final Four appearance in 2002.
He was 43-15 in two seasons at Indiana before his dismissal late in the 2008 season, but Rhoades was satisfied that Sampson had learned from his mistakes and deserved a second chance.
“I got to a great comfort level where he was a great fit and a great hire for the University of Houston …,” Rhoades said. “He’s going to be great for the University of Houston and he’ll do everything right there.”
Rhoades said he met with Sampson on “maybe three or four” occasions during the hiring process.
“He was very forthcoming,” Rhoades said. “I talked to his former bosses, the ADs at two of the institutions he had been at. We talked to people in the NCAA, people that used to be in the NCAA, people in the Big 12, people in the Big Ten. We certainly did our due diligence.”
That was enough to satisfy Loftin, who talked extensively about integrity as a key criteria in Rhoades’ hiring.
“This man (Sampson) made mistakes obviously in the past,” Loftin said. “He was sanctioned for that very heavily by the NCAA. That’s no longer the case. … This man, this AD (Rhoades), did his job, did his homework, did all the things you’ve got to do to be able to ascertain if this person’s a good match for the job and has learned from his past mistakes.”