2-22-08 -- Kelvin Sampson tainted the Indiana basketball program’s cleancut reputation. Now the Hoosiers are hoping the fallout doesn’t do any further damage.
Sampson agreed to Indiana’s offer of a $750,000 buyout Friday, waiving his right to sue the university for further damages, and turning the program over to interim coach Dan Dakich.
The athletic department’s response to an NCAA report charging Sampson with five major NCAA rules violations may create an even bigger mess for the 15th-ranked Hoosiers, starting with Saturday’s game at Northwestern.
Some players threatened to sit out the game as a protest. However, athletic director Rick Greenspan, who asked for Sampson’s resignation, said he expected the players to participate at Northwestern and the program to move forward after one of the darkest chapters in program history.
“I feel a significant disappointment, first and foremost, for our players,” Greenspan said. “I think this is a very difficult thing for them to go through. It’s a disappointment for the team, a disappointment for the fans of our university who I think take great pride in having been, for a long time, major infraction-free. But sometimes out of these situations come some very good things and I think that’s the only way I can feel about it. We are going to move forward.”
How quickly, or devotedly, the players’ follow is still a mystery.
Senior captain D.J. White, guards Armon Bassett, Jordan Crawford and Jamarcus Ellis, and forwards DeAndre Thomas and Brandon McGee skipped Dakich’s first practice Friday afternoon. By Friday night’s scheduled walkthrough, Greenspan said most if not all of the missing players were back and he expects them to leave for Chicago with the rest of the team Saturday morning.
Sampson also offered players his support in a statement released by the university minutes before the official announcement was made.
“While I’m saddened that I will not have the opportunity to coach these student-athletes, I feel that this is in the best interest of the program for me to step away at this time,” Sampson said. “I wish my players nothing but the best for the remainder of the season.”
Sampson’s two-year tenure at Indiana ended the same way it began, with an NCAA hearing scheduled for alleged rules infractions.
He took the Indiana job in March 2006 and two months later was penalized by the NCAA for making 577 impermissible phone calls between 2000 and 2004 when he was coaching Oklahoma.
Given the pending charges, many Indiana fans and some trustees thought it was a mistake to even hire Sampson.
And when the phone calls and accusations continued, it only created more angst among the fan-base.
“In retrospect, I think there should have been greater considerations,” trustee Philip Eskew Jr. said. “But you talk to the man and he says, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ and I believe in giving guys second chances. But when he goes back on his word, that’s something else.”
The second wave of charges emerged in October when a university investigation found Sampson and his staff made more than 100 impermissible calls while still under recruiting restrictions and that Sampson participated in at least 10 three-way calls, another violation of the NCAA’s punishment.
Greenspan called the violations secondary, imposing a one-year extension of the NCAA’s recruiting restrictions and pulling a $500,000 raise. The Hoosiers also took away one scholarship for the 2008-09 season.
What the NCAA found, however, was far more serious. The report, released last week, claimed Sampson provided false and misleading information to investigators from both the university and the NCAA, failed to meet the “generally recognized high standard of honesty” expected in college sports and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program.
The allegations unleashed a torrent of criticism, and many fans booed Sampson during introductions during the Hoosiers’ next three games. University president Michael McRobbie then announced the university would take a second look at the charges, setting a Friday deadline for Greenspan to make his recommendation.
Sampson never had a chance.
“I think that decision was formed shortly after the letter of allegations was received,” Greenspan said. “I think shortly after our president said those allegations were troubling and deeply concerning and that we’d work through this is when we came to the conclusion.”
Still, Greenspan worked long and hard to resolve the mess.
He met with the team Thursday night and worked in his office till nearly midnight. On Friday morning, he met briefly with Sampson in the coaches’ office. A few minutes after Greenspan left the coach’s office, Sampson walked down a ramp with his wife, Karen, went into another coaches’ office was not seen again inside Assembly Hall.
If there was any doubt, it was virtually erased when players, managers, assistant coaches and the coach’s son, Kellen Sampson, left a team meeting with dour expressions about midday.
Just before practice started, the depth of the problems took on another face.
While Indiana star freshman guard Eric Gordon said he expected to play against Northwestern, White and other players never showed up.
When asked if they would skip Saturday’s game, Greenspan said: “I assume there’s always that chance, and I won’t pretend to speak for our players. Much like any student-athlete, they develop a strong affinity with a coach and that’s a tribute to coach Sampson.”
Outside the locker room, there was relief.
The decision, helped by an anonymous donor’s gift of $550,000 for the buyout, seemed to pacify those who wanted the stain of improprieties gone.
“I’m glad it’s over. I just want to move forward and I hope the players can accept it and move forward with us,” Eskew Jr. said. “It’s just a bad time for Indiana University. I regret it. I’m sorry it happened. I’m just glad everything’s over with and hope the players rally around each other and play for the school.”
Sampson led the Hoosiers into the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2006-07 and had them in position to contend for a Big Ten title this season. He broke the school record for most consecutive home victories at the start of a career, eclipsing the mark set by revered coach Branch McCracken, earlier this season.
But his success on the court could not overshadow the accusations of what he did off of it.
The 45-year-old Dakich, once considered a possible successor to coach Bob Knight, will now get a chance to coach his alma mater. He is the former head coach at Bowling Green and a former assistant under Knight at Indiana. And he took the job vacated when Rob Senderoff resigned in early November. Senderoff was also implicated in the phone-call scandal at Indiana.
Dakich also was an assistant on Indiana’s 1987 national championship team.
“I want nothing but the best for these players and the institution,” he said in a statement. “The challenge ahead is to maintain the positive momentum that has been built within the team and to keep everyone as focused as possible during this difficult time.”
Assistant coach Ray McCallum, who the players wanted to take over, became assistant head coach. McCallum was a head coach previously at Ball State and Houston and has 25 years of coaching experience at the college level.
Neither Dakich nor McCallum were implicated in the latest NCAA allegations, and McCallum also was cleared of any wrongdoing while assisting Sampson at Oklahoma.
Without Sampson around, though, the Hoosiers are hoping for a clean slate.