Kelvin Sampson returns to where he belongs

Count me in as one who applauds the National Labor Relation Board’s recent decision to allow Northwestern University football players to vote on forming a union.

My reasoning for this is not based solely on the influence my loyally union father played on my upbringing, although that probably didn’t hurt.

The reason I am happy to see the football players considered “employees” of the university is that I see it as a major step in the demise of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

I could go on for days listing reasons why I want to see the NCAA just simply go away, but that would take all week to read.

Instead, I will give you one name: Kelvin Sampson.

Sampson is a former Montana Tech basketball coach who last week was hired to coach the men’s basketball team at the University of Houston. Sampson is returning to college basketball after spending some hard time in the basketball hell known as the NBA since he was forced out as the head coach of Indiana in November 2008.

The NCAA won’t even consider a salary cap for Southeastern Conference football or Kentucky basketball, but the organization had no problem giving Sampson the SMU treatment because he made a few too many phone calls.

Sure, Sampson was caught red-handed breaking a rule that he knew existed. He broke the rule in Oklahoma and again at Indiana.

The rule, however, was just plain silly. God forbid a coach actually get to know some of the recruits before he puts his job on the line by signing them.

On one hand the NCAA banished Sampson for his frequent phone calls. On the other it has no problem with letting John Calipari make a mockery of higher education by winning with his one-and-done players who don’t even pretend to go to class.

Calipari has had trips to the Final Four vacated for cheating from two different schools, yet he hasn’t been punished a lick.

Calipari loves to win at any cost. Sampson just loves to coach.

For instance, let me relay you this story from Butte native Tedd Stanisich, a long-time coach in Dillon.

Back in the days when Sampson turned Montana Tech basketball into Showtime at the HPER Complex with players like Flyin’ Bryin Vaughns, Sampson visited a summer camp being held by Western Montana College coach Casey Keltz.

“I was in the office talking with Casey when Kelvin showed up for camp,” Stanisich says. “Casey asked him when he wanted to speak or have a short clinic for the kids and coaches.  Kelvin asked if he could stay all week and just coach one of the 7th or 8th grade teams.”

Pause for a minute and think about the fact that Sampson visited Western in the first place. Can you picture Carroll College football coach Mike Van Diest, by all accounts a man full of class, stopping by a Montana Tech camp?

“Casey was shocked,” Stanisich says. “But he said, ‘Great, if you are sure you want to do that.’ The teams were picked with a draft while the kids participated in four on four scrimmage.  The junior high coaches (mostly college kids) drew names for the draft order and Kelvin said he would draw last.”

I don’t think I have to tell you whose team won.

“I watched Kelvin coach his team and just loved how enthusiastic he was coaching those little kids,” Stanisich says.

Kelvin left Montana Tech in 1985. He went on to Washington State before going to Oklahoma and then Indiana.

He took Washington State to the NCAA tournament in 1994. He went to 11 NCAA tournaments in 12 seasons at Oklahoma. He took the Sooners to the Final Four in 2002.

Along the way, Sampson never forgot the people he met in his time in Montana.

When sportswriter Jim Edgar passed away in December, Sampson took time away from his life-consuming job as an assistant with the Houston Rockets to call his family an offer his condolences

When Montana Tech renovated the HPER Complex, Sampson and wife made a $50,000 donation. The Sampsons also helped raise another $200,000, and now the Kelvin and Karen Sampson Endowed Scholarship Fund benefits the Oredigger hoops program.

Every current and future Oredigger player will play home games on the Kelvin Sampson Court. This is just a guess, but I’ll be there’s no John Calipari Court at any of schools he coached.

Finally, Sampson’s punishment from the NCAA came to an end last year, and that was after the silly rule he broke was no more.

Finally, a school came calling and Sampson is back in college basketball where he belonged all along.

Finally, Stanisich and the rest of us will get to see that Sampson’s enthusiasm again.

“I hope Kelvin does great at Houston,” Stanisich says, “and hope the NCAA is dissolved.”

—Bill Foley, who has also broken several silly rules, writes a column that appears on on Tuesdays. Email him at Follow him at