Culture / Sporting Life

Kelvin Sampson and Houston Working To Complete New Contract — Deals For UH’s Coach & Kellen Sampson Could Be Announced Within Days Despite Bucks Interview

Major Raises and a Succession Plan Have Been in the Works For Months

BY // 05.17.23

The University of Houston and Kelvin Sampson are continuing to work towards completing a revised contract that would pay Sampson in excess of $4.4 million per season and also give lead assistant and head-coach-in-waiting Kellen Sampson a significant salary increase, a basketball source tells PaperCity. The new deals — including a succession plan that will make it more clear when Kellen Sampson could take over as head coach — could be announced as early as this week or early next week if there are no hiccups, the source says.

PaperCity was the first outlet anywhere to report the contracts were in the works back on March 28. UH athletic director Chris Pezman and president Renu Khator have been determined to get revised contracts done for both Sampsons for a while. But media interest in the new deals intensified on Wednesday when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — the most well-connected reporter in basketball — reported that Kelvin Sampson interviewed with the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA team’s head coaching opening.

In the wake of this Woj Bomb, media outlets that previously missed or ignored the ongoing contract discussions wrote about them. But the truth is that UH has been working on these deals long before the Bucks ever entered the picture. The Sampsons were offered the revised contracts before the Bucks interview, a source tells PaperCity.

Now, there is optimism the contracts could be completed soon, within days.

When PaperCity talked to Pezman on Wednesday night, he declined to comment on the status of the contract talks or Kelvin Sampson’s interview with the Bucks. Pezman did return reporters’ calls though, continuing his pattern of being a standup guy with the media even when he feels he should not comment on or off the record at a certain time.

Pezman made it clear to PaperCity how important getting new deals done for Kelvin Sampson and Kellen Sampson was to the university when we talked for that March story.

“My job is to make this job as good for him as I possibly can,” Pezman said of Kelvin Sampson then. “Let him know how important he is to me and us as I possibly can. There’s no one more important than him to us. Period. He’s done it. Period. Everything he gets, he’s earned and deserves.”

To be clear, the most likely conclusion to these latest developments is that Kelvin Sampson and Kellen Sampson both remain at the University of Houston, where they’ve built one of the most elite programs in America. The Bucks have not offered Sampson their head coaching job at this time. So there isn’t anything for him to turn down or make a decision on at this time.

It makes sense why Kelvin Sampson would take an interview with the Bucks. Sampson worked as an assistant in Milwaukee for three seasons in his time away from college basketball, working with Jon Horst, who is now the Bucks general manager, then. And any basketball mind couldn’t help but be intrigued at least a little by the idea of getting to coach Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. arguably the single best player in the NBA. Fired Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer also made $8 million per season.

Still, Sampson has built deep ties at UH, where he been able to forge an unlikely national powerhouse with his family, including do-everything director of basketball operations Lauren Sampson. Of course, a number of sports organizations — and non-sports companies — would love to have a marketing and operations wizard like Lauren Sampson on their staff.

UH athletic director Chris Pezman and president Renu Khator have been determined to get revised contracts done for both Sampsons for a while. But media interest in the new deals intensified on Wednesday when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski  reported that Kelvin Sampson interviewed with the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA team’s head coaching opening.

For their part, UH officials remain committed to finalizing the deals with Kelvin Sampson and Kellen Sampson that have been in the works.

When Kelvin Sampson signed a six-year contract extension with UH in 2021, his $3 million plus annual salary ranked among the 18 highest in college basketball. But as new deals have been signed across the country at major college programs, Sampson’s current contract has dropped him well out of that Top 20 range among college coaches. In its latest annual analysis of college basketball coaching salaries, USA Today found that Kelvin Sampson’s $3.2 million salary ranked 3oth in the country for the 2022-23 season. Behind coaches such as Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel ($3.6 million), TCU’s Jamie Dixon ($3.5 million) and Louisville’s Kenny Payne ($3.49 million).

“We’ve got to step him back up,” Pezman told PaperCity in March. “We’ll find a way to do that. That’s what I’ve been working on.”

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the SMU Mustangs
University of Houston coaches Kellen Sampson and his dad Kelvin Sampson know how to coach effort. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Getting a new contract finalized in college basketball isn’t as simple as it is in the NBA where one owner essentially usually has to give his approval. Khator, UH Board of Regents chairman Tilman Fertitta and the regents must be on the same page for a new deal or significant contract reworking. That momentum still seems to be in place at UH at this time.

The Kellen Sampson Contract Equation

A big part of the new revised contracts is making sure Kellen Sampson feels just as valued as his dad does.

“Kellen is our coach in waiting,” Pezman told PaperCity earlier this spring. “And we have to be ready. He’s going to get other opportunities. And we have to be prepared to be proactive. And have a plan. It’s easy to think with Coach Sampson here, ‘Oh we’re fine.’

“But there’s a path here to keep this thing going. And Kellen is integral to that plan.”

For now, the University of Houston’s plans haven’t changed — and there is no real indication that the Sampsons are any less committed to staying at the school either. Still, you’d be crazy to take anything 100 percent for granted in the world of big-time college athletics today.

A formal announcement of the long worked on new revised contracts — and the resulting press conference — would make everyone around UH feel a lot more comfortable.

For more on the University of Houston push to get new deals with Kelvin Sampson and Kellen Sampson finalized, read PaperCity’s March 28th exclusive on the beginnings of those contract talks.

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