Sampson salary clause follows Lopes, Tubbs exits
Oklahoma officials don't see a connection. They see a coincidence.
Two former assistants of Kelvin Sampson lost their own head coaching jobs over alleged NCAA rules violations -- Fresno State's Ray Lopes a year ago and SMU's Jimmy Tubbs last week.
The Tubbs firing came while Oklahoma is facing an infractions hearing April 21 in Park City, Utah, over excessive phone calls made by Sampson's staff during 2000-04 while Sampson was in charge of the Sooners.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said there was no indication when these assistants were with the Sooners that they were committing infractions that would later come to light.
"Unequivocally, we never saw a problem or ever had knowledge of a problem with any assistant while they were here at OU," Castiglione said. "If that were the case, it would have been dealt with quickly."
The questions resurfaced with a report in the Indianapolis Star Thursday that Sampson's new salary at Indiana could be reduced by almost $100,000 in his first season if the NCAA imposes sanctions against him, not just Oklahoma.
The Star, which obtained Sampson's contract through an open records request, reported that his salary is for seven years and a total of $10.8 million.
Oklahoma was up front about the violations -- hundreds of extra phone calls to recruits above the NCAA limits -- that occurred under Sampson. Sampson has pointed out numerous times that a number of the calls were made following up to reach a recruit after the recruit wasn't home, but he doesn't hide from the offenses.
"I made a mistake and we move on down the road," Sampson said again Wednesday.
Sampson was forced to say something similar when he was announced at his news conference at Indiana on March 29.
Oklahoma was aggressive in its self-imposed penalties. It took Sampson off the road in July, his salary was frozen and the Sooners also reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12 for the 2006-07 season.
Oklahoma doesn't expect to be given a harsher sentence but no one really knows how severely the Sooners will be treated by the infractions committee. The staff the infractions occurred under is now gone and postseason banishment is highly unlikely based on the offense.
Lopes was an assistant at Oklahoma when the excessive phone call business got going, before he left for Fresno State in 2002. Lopes resigned from Fresno State because of violations incurred for making impermissible phone calls; Fresno State already was under probation for violations committed during the Jerry Tarkanian era.
Fresno State ended up self-imposing a one-year postseason ban for this past season under first-year head coach Steve Cleveland. Fresno State went in front of the NCAA on Feb. 18 for the violations under Lopes and still is waiting for the infractions committee to issue its ruling. A decision is due sometime this month.
Tubbs surprisingly was sacked last week by SMU over rules allegations after an internal investigation. The school found alleged violations and turned them in two months ago. Extra meal benefits are at the crux of these violations that, at a school sensitive to violations due to being shut down for football in 1987, were apparently enough to end his two-year reign.
Castiglione said Lopes was involved in the phone call case, since he was there for the first two years of the violations.
"We didn't learn of this until after he left the university," Castiglione said. "Whether they are connected to what occurred at the other institution, I could not say."
Castiglione said until "we know all the facts of the case, we can't tie them to while they were here. These were judgments made after they were employed by us."
Sampson said he never had a problem with his assistants when they were with him. He also didn't buy that they were fired/forced out simply for the rules violations.
"It was a lot bigger than the rules," Sampson said.
Sampson hinted that in the case of Tubbs that someone might have felt he wasn't the right guy for the job and found reasons to let him go.
Tubbs' case is still open and SMU is waiting for the NCAA to respond.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.