Senior Writer

Sampson's career arc a sign for other troubled college coaches?


Kelvin Sampson may or may not become the next head coach of the Detroit Pistons.

I couldn't begin to guess.

But Sampson is a serious candidate to replace John Kuester, according to colleague Ken Berger. So that means the man who was forced to resign from Indiana University in February 2008 because of acknowledged NCAA violations is now, only a little more than three years later, in position to land the type of NBA job so many of his former colleagues in college desire, which is proof that the stuff we sometimes refer to as a career-killer doesn't have to be at all.

Kelvin Sampson lost his job at Indiana after violating the same rules that got him in trouble at Oklahoma. (Getty Images)  
Kelvin Sampson lost his job at Indiana after violating the same rules that got him in trouble at Oklahoma. (Getty Images)  
Sampson played this wisely.

Disgraced and essentially banned by the NCAA at the age of 52, Sampson didn't spend a year playing golf or hiding or talking on television. He's a basketball coach who wanted to coach basketball, and because he's a respected mind, especially on the defensive end, he was never going to have a difficult time landing an assistant's position in the NBA.

First, the Spurs' Gregg Popovich hired Sampson as an advisor just to keep him busy, then Sampson joined the Bucks' staff in May 2008. He has been there expanding and enhancing his résumé ever since, learning the NBA game and preparing for the kind of opportunity that's now right in front of him.

Will Sampson get the job?

Again, I don't know.

But the idea that he's a legitimate candidate in Detroit -- and would likely be a legitimate candidate in Minnesota, too, if the Timberwolves remove Kurt Rambis -- should give hope to former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and any other future forced-out-of-the-college-game coaches because Sampson has laid the blueprint to regaining relevance.

You want to continue coaching? Get on an NBA bench as soon as possible. That league has no rules preventing excessive phone calls or, in Pearl's case, Saturday afternoon cookouts because that league is all about basketball -- about figuring out ways to run the pick-and-roll and guard the pick-and-roll, about being able to handle a position of authority, about managing egos and being fiery enough to make a point when a point needs to be made but composed enough to let something go when something needs to be let go.

An NBA job is a job for a basketball coach.

A college job is a job for a recruiter and marketer.

More on NBA coaching
Ken Berger Ken Berger
Kelvin Sampson has what the Pistons are looking for, might be in the Minny mix and could even be a Knicks candidate. Read >>

That's why not all NBA guys would make good college coaches, because succeeding in college basketball at the high-major level has, for the most part, very little to do with actual coaching. And that's also why not all college guys would make good NBA coaches, because some of their biggest strengths -- i.e., fundraising and cutting deals to get prospects -- wouldn't translate at all. NBA people now understand this, which is why college coaches rarely make the jump anymore. These days, the best path to becoming an NBA coach is finding an NBA bench and waiting it out. If you're on an NBA bench with previous head-coaching experience, well, that's how you end up as a finalist for the Pistons' job.

So, yes, Sampson was considered a punchline upon being forced out at IU in 2008, but look now. He's either about to become the next head coach of the Pistons or, almost certainly, become the head coach of some other NBA franchise in time.

As it stands, Sampson's abrupt departure from the college game could be a blessing in disguise. It actually could end up being what launches Sampson's career into something great that -- without those illegal phone calls back at Indiana -- almost certainly never would have been achievable, strange as that might sound.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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