Capel takes Sooners' reins from Sampson

Updated: April 12, 2006, 7:59 AM ET
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- All along, Jeff Capel has heard he's too young and doesn't have enough experience to be a successful coach. It hasn't stopped him yet.

The 31-year-old former Duke guard was hired as Oklahoma's basketball coach Tuesday, resigning at Virginia Commonwealth to replace Kelvin Sampson and take over a program under NCAA investigation.

Duke Pedigree
Jeff Capel played alongside Grant Hill on Duke's 1994 team that went to the NCAA title game but lost to Arkansas. But he also endured a 13-18 season in 1995 while coach Mike Krzyzewski missed 19 games following back surgery.

"My experience at Duke was different," Capel said. "It was different from a lot of people that have played at Duke, especially more recently, because of all the things that I went through during my four years there."

At times, he was thrust into the point guard position during the run to the Final Four, and now he thinks those types of experiences are paying off. At age 31, Capel was the third-youngest Division I coach last season.

"I had to grow up very quick there because a lot was expected of me as a freshman," Capel said. "I had to learn how not to defer. I had to learn how to not be afraid to say things and to set a standard, to be an example for the rest of my team. I just think that's kind of carried over."

Part of Capel's coaching philosophy comes from Krzyzewski and some is from his father, who's an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats.

Coach K's other disciples have had mixed results.

Mike Brey coached Delaware to two NCAA bids and Notre Dame to three more before three straight NIT berths.

Tommy Amaker led Seton Hall to three NIT bids and a run to the NCAA round of 16 before taking Michigan to the NIT championship in 2004 and the NIT title game this season.

Neil Dougherty took TCU to the NIT last year before going 6-25 this season.

Three others lost their jobs this season: Quin Snyder resigned from Missouri, Tim O'Toole left Fairfield and David Henderson was fired by Delaware.

For what it's worth, Krzyzewski thinks Capel will succeed at Oklahoma. When Capel sought out Coach K's advice, he was told Oklahoma is "one of the best jobs in the country."

"Jeff is one of the best communicators I've known and he will continue the quality tradition of basketball there by building a program suited for long-term success," Krzyzewski said.

Capel's Duke pedigree was certainly appealing to Oklahoma's players, some of whom remember him from his playing days.

"When you have Coach K or Duke anywhere in the scenario, that's going to be a good thing," freshman forward Taylor Griffin said. "He's probably at the highest level or one of the best coaches out there. That's got to mean something."

-- The Associated Press

"I know that this announcement in the college basketball world is shocking," Capel said after being introduced by athletic director Joe Castiglione. "But I know and I have all the confidence that it is the right decision. I know it's the right decision for me."

Capel was 79-41 in four seasons as coach at VCU, his first head job. He signed a two-year contract extension with the Richmond, Va., school last month, running through 2012.

But he left that behind and agreed to a five-year deal worth up to $850,000 annually to replace Sampson, hired as Indiana's coach March 29. Sampson was 279-109 in 12 seasons at Oklahoma, including a trip to the Final Four in 2002.

"In everything we do we're going to strive to be excellent, in the classroom, in our community and on the court," Capel said.

"I really feel like this is a place, the University of Oklahoma, where you can win the whole thing."

Capel, whose father is an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats, led VCU to the Colonial Athletic Association title and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2004 and then to the NIT in 2005 -- the school's first consecutive postseason berths since 1985. His Rams finished this season 19-10.

"I know people are talking about his young age, but look at how he has established himself already, before he got to this point, and doing it with a program that had been way down," Castiglione said.

Like Capel, Sampson also had one NCAA Tournament on his résumé when he was hired at Oklahoma in 1994. Capel pointed out that Bob Stoops was an assistant with no head coaching experience when he was hired as Oklahoma's football coach in 1999. Stoops led Oklahoma to a national title in his second season.

Capel's mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, was 33 and had been a head coach for five years when he took over at Duke in 1980.

"I've never bought into the theory of you have to have a ton of experience to get it done," Capel said.

One obstacle for Capel will be a looming decision from the NCAA in a case involving more than 550 improper recruiting phone calls by Sampson and his staff. The accusations against Oklahoma include "lack of institutional control," one of the NCAA's most serious findings.

Oklahoma has argued for a lesser "failure in monitoring" finding and instituted self-imposed sanctions, including probation and recruiting cutbacks. A hearing is scheduled April 21 in Utah.

Capel said he had discussions about the situation with Castiglione and president David Boren and felt comfortable with the situation.

"That didn't deter me or anything from wanting this job," Capel said.

Capel, whose VCU teams were built around defense, inherits an Oklahoma team that loses three of its top four scorers and top three rebounders in seniors Taj Gray, Terrell Everett and Kevin Bookout but features a strong recruiting class that includes McDonald's All-American guard Scottie Reynolds from Herndon, Va.

"He's from Virginia, so I know Scottie pretty well. I had a chance to talk to him early this morning," said Capel, who's considering visiting Reynolds on Friday.

Sooners players were informed about the hiring about 2 hours before the announcement but started researching Capel after reports of his hiring surfaced overnight. Some remembered him from his playing days at Duke, where he started 28 games alongside Grant Hill as the Blue Devils made it to the 1994 NCAA championship game before losing to Arkansas.

"We know that he's learned a lot from Coach K and that type of experience is only going to help us with our success here," said guard Michael Neal, the Sooners' top returning scorer. "We're just all excited. We can't wait to get started."

Capel graduated from Duke in 1997, then played in the CBA and in France before beginning his coaching career as an assistant to his father, Jeff Capel Jr., at Old Dominion. He moved to VCU as an assistant in 2001 and became the head coach the following year. At 27, he was the youngest head coach in Division I at the time.

Dane Fife, 26, of Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne now carries that distinction.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press