Sampson probably never would have survived at WSU beyond his third season after finishing progressively worse each of those first three years.
His first campaign, in 1987-88, wasn't all bad considering the talent level. The Cougs went 13-16 overall and 7-11 in conference games. But Year Two – when the Cougs went 10-19, won only four Pac-10 games and finished eighth in the conference -- would no doubt have had fans wringing their hands. And Year Three would have been spleen-busting time as WSU went 7-22 overall and 1-17 in conference play.
Good thing fans and the administration showed patience, because Sampson proceeded to finish fourth or fifth in the conference each of the next four seasons, going 73-46 overall and .500 in Pac-10 play while earning one NIT berth and one NCAA Tournament invitation.
You would have thought James Naismith had settled in Pullman, such was the excitement for basketball on the Palouse.
His rebuild at Washington State brought the Oklahoma Sooners calling and he proceeded to establish himself in Norman as one of the top coaches in the nation. He took the Sooners to the Big Dance nine straight years, and 11 times his 12 seasons there.
He averaged 23.25 wins per year at Oklahoma, and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1999, the Final Four in 2002 and the Elite Eight in 2003. His winning percentage at OU (.721) is the highest in school history.
From there it was on to Indiana, where he went 45-11 in two seasons and again earned two NCAA Tournament invitations.
Sampson has spent the past five seasons as an assistant in the NBA and his name has been rumored a couple of times for head coaching positions there.
If he believes he's close to an NBA head coaching position, luring him back to Pullman might be tough. But three things could play in WSU's favor:
First, Sampson is a GREAT college coach and knows he can win virtually any situation.
Second, between his time as an assistant and head coach at WSU, he spent nine years in Pullman and, by all accounts, loved it; in fact, he wasn't even sure he wanted to leave when he did but WSU never bothered making him a counter offer after Oklahoma showed up.
And third, Sampson's son Kellen is an up-and-coming assistant basketball coach, currently at Appalachian State and formerly at Stephen F. Austin. He's 28 years old. Like Dick Bennett before him, what better way for an established head coach to put his son into position to fly high than by bringing him on as the right-hand man in an elite conference?
Interestingly, Kellen, like Tony Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay under Dick, played college ball for his dad. Those parallels are almost too good to pass up.
If Cougar fans are looking for a "splashy" or "buzz-inducing" hire, it would seem pretty tough to beat Kelvin Sampson. We know him, he knows us, and the road to success has been proven in so many ways.
LITTLE KNOWN SAMPSON FACT:
Kelvin served as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1979-80 under former WSU player and assistant coach Jud Heathcote.