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The Houston Cougars come into the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest side of the bracket. And on the Houston sideline, you’ll see a familiar face. Kelvin Sampson has coached in high-profile college basketball games for years. While the coach has a lot of March Madness experience, he took a long and sometimes controversial road to make Houston a national powerhouse again. So, the answer to where did Kelvin Sampson coach before Houston is a bit complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

Where did Kelvin Sampson coach? 

Where did Kelvin Sampson coach? What schools did Kelvin Sampson coach at? Houston Cougars
Kelvin Sampson | Bob Levey/Getty Images

1979-1980: Michigan State grad assistant

After playing basketball at Pembroke State (now UNC Pembroke) in North Carolina, Sampson went on to get his Master’s degree at Michigan State.

The answer to the question, what schools did Kelvin Sampson coach?” starts with his time as a grad assistant for one season under legendary Spartans coach Jud Heathcote.

1980–1985: Montana Tech 

Sampson left Michigan State to become an assistant at the NAIA school Montana Tech in 1980. During his first season on the bench, Sampson was elevated to interim head coach and then got the job full-time in 1981.

As a head coach at the lower level of college basketball, Sampson had great success, posting three consecutive 22-win seasons, three Frontier Conference Championships, and two NAIA District 12 Championship games. He is now in the Montana Tech Diggers Hall of Fame, per

1985–1994: Washington State 

The NAIA success got Kelvin Sampson a job as a lead assistant at Washington State. The Cougars were a middling Pac-10 team under coach Len Stevens, but when Stevens left to take the Nevada job, Sampson once again stepped in.  

After three sub-.500 campaigns, Sampson started turning the program around in the early 1990s. The team made the NIT in 1992, its first postseason tournament since 1983, and in the head coach’s final year in Pullman (1993-94), the Cougars got into March Madness for the first time in over a decade.

1994–2006: Oklahoma

Turning around Washington State caught the eye of Oklahoma in the Big 12. Sampson replaced longtime head coach Billy Tubbs for the 1994-95 season and started a run of nine-straight March Madness appearances.

From 2000-03, the Sooners won the Big 12 three-straight seasons and were ranked as high as No. 3 in the AP polls in 2001-02 and 2002-03. In 2002, the team made the Final Four, with stars Hollis Price, Aaron McGhee, and Ebi Ere leading the way before losing to Indiana.

Kelvin Sampson ultimately posted a 279-109 record in Norman and won the Coach of the Year Award twice.

2006–2008: Indiana

Sampson left Oklahoma, a school more focused on football, in 2006 for Indiana, one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the country.

The Hoosiers had NCAA tournament teams in both seasons, but Sampson never made it to March Madness in 2008. The coach took a $750,000 buyout from the university and resigned after the NCAA found multiple recruiting violations, making “hundreds of impermissible recruiting phone calls at Oklahoma and again at Indiana,” per the Chicago Tribune.

Many of the violations at Indiana centered around the recruitment of future NBA star Eric Gordon.

In addition to losing his job, the NCAA slapped Sampson with a five-year show-cause penalty, which “effectively banned him from college basketball for five years.”

2008–2014: NBA assistant coach      

With no college basketball team willing to take a chance on Kelvin Sampson despite his proven track record of success, where did Kelvin Sampson coach after that? The North Carolina native became an NBA assistant for the next six seasons.

From 2008-2011, he served as a Milwaukee Bucks assistant under Scott Skiles, and from 2011-14 he was on the Houston Rockets’ staff under NBA Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. 

2014–present: Houston

After the Kelvin Sampson sanctions expired, the Houston Cougars hired the coach in 2014.

Under early head coach Guy Lewis, the Houston program had massive success in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in the mid-1980s with the “Phi Slamma Jamma” teams of future NBA legends Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

However, the team fell on hard times throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, making the NCAA tournament only once (2010) between 1992 and Sampson’s first March Madness appearance with the school in 2018.

Sampson currently holds a 230-72 record with Houston, and 2023 will be his fifth March Madness appearance in six seasons. In 2021, Sampson and the Cougars reached the Final Four before losing to the eventual national champion, Baylor.


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