It took the University of Houston men's basketball program 35 years to get back to the sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. It took them 34 just to win a game in the tourney. Three decades ago, it was Guy V. Lewis, the unique and innovative Hall of Fame coach, that held the reins. He left soon after, 30 seasons after he was named head coach at UH.
Now, it appears the university is close to re-signing the second most successful coach in their history. Reports on Tuesday indicated Kelvin Sampson was close to signing a long-term extension to stay in Houston. The Coogs offered him six year, $18 million last week, but no numbers had been released on what, if any, changes had happened since then.
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It had widely been reported that Arkansas was considering a run at Sampson, especially given their new athletic director, who worked with Sampson at UH. But that speculation has died down over the last couple days and it appears the Razorbacks were never even in contact with Sampson in the first place.
The move would help to shore up a UH athletic program that has been lurching toward respectability for the first time in decades. In college sports, football and men's basketball are the marquee attractions and UH has done a good job of steadily building both programs. Unfortunately, in football, their coaches have been routinely poached by larger universities with varying degrees of success. This time, it looks like they will be able to hold onto their basketball coach.
Sampson, who just completed his sixth season, has helped build new facilities including the brand new Fertitta Center, and made the NCAA Tournament twice. This past week, they lost in the sweet 16 to a very good Kentucky team, but the advance to that round was something not seen from UH in 35 years.
All indications are that Sampson is beloved by his players and a fine recruiter of talent. With a new building and a new contract, never mind the high profile stage of March Madness, there is reason for hope for UH fans. Given his age (63), he won't catch Lewis, but he's already the second best coach in UH history. Get a title for the Coogs and he'll have done something no one, not even Lewis and Phi Slama Jama, could muster. For now, it looks like he'll have a few more years to make it happen.