Hoosier state

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Back in November 2006, on the eve of his first game as Indiana's new coach, Kelvin Sampson sat in his office (Bob Knight's old office) and tried to shrug off what had been his tumultuous start.

His hiring at Indiana had been slammed by fans and media as a clash of incompatible histories – his of an NCAA violation and a zero percent graduation rate against a school that valued its compliance and graduation records almost as much as its five national championships.

Distrusted by some – particularly Knight supporters – all Sampson could do was look to the future when he was confident he would win enough to make all those Hoosiers forgive him for a rocky start.

"My first two months here?" Sampson said that day. "Five years from now most people won't remember."

It is a promise that might prove prophetic if only because it now seems so pathetic.

Indeed, no one might recall his first two months when 2011 rolls around because a new coach might long have been in place and Sampson's final few days could overshadow everything.

Sampson is deep in a hole now, accused of five major rules infractions, mostly breaking the exact same statutes he did at Oklahoma. Perhaps even more troubling, he is accused of practicing dishonesty with both IU and NCAA investigators, a charge Sampson denies.

Indiana hasn't decided to fire him, but an IU source said the school will launch an internal investigation into the new allegations against Sampson on Friday and make a recommendation as soon as next week. The Hoosiers play host to Michigan State on Saturday.

"I feel we have to react in some way that's in the best interests of the team and the best interests of the university," trustee Philip Eskew Jr. told the Associated Press. "I think there are options."

If history is any indication, once this ship sails, once administrations lose trust in their coach, the end is inevitable.

Sampson, 52, is a proud, self-made man who blasted his way to the top of his profession on his own tenacity. He didn't play or work as an assistant for some famous coach. He wasn't just handed opportunities. His first head coaching job was at Montana Tech, of all places.

His climb to the top was remarkable.

His fall may be even more so.

The question running through college basketball is what in the world was Sampson thinking? In this cut-throat, hyper-competitive business, everyone pushes for any advantage possible. But once he got the Indiana job, especially under the circumstances he did, his coaching peers figured he would keep it cool, for at least a while.

Apparently he knows only one way to recruit.

After getting caught making 577 improper recruiting calls at Oklahoma – "deliberate noncompliance," the NCAA termed it – and after having a one-year recruiting ban follow him to IU, what did Sampson and his staff do? They immediately made "more than 100 phone calls" that violated the terms of his probation.

And then, after offering up some nonsense public explanation, they apparently tried to cover it up.

Sampson already lost a half-million dollar raise at IU, had an assistant fired and saw the program self-punished last fall when the charges first came out. But now the NCAA wants more, now here comes the humiliation of Indiana's first major rules infraction. Ever.

And gone is one of the program's primary points of pride – purity.

For all the wild antics and divisive controversy of Knight's regime, IU fans could point out that during his tenure the NCAA caught just about every one of their regional rivals cheating – an almost perfect circle of corruption starting at Purdue and swinging around through Illinois, down to Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati and back up to Ohio State and over to Michigan.

"We took a lot of pride in that," said Ted Kitchel, a member of the 1981 NCAA championship team. "That was the culture we lived in because we had a coach who went to the extreme to make sure (of it).

"We entered games with teams where we felt our program did the right way and the other team didn't do it the right way," he continued. "When you won, it was, 'Put one more point on the side of the good guys.' "

Now Indiana isn't the good guys. Now it isn't any different than anyone else – except for one thing.

Generally when a school gets busted the reaction is to lash back at the NCAA, downplay the charges and support the coach at all costs. Few schools take real responsibility for their sins, and invariably one of three people gets blamed for the entire ordeal – the rogue booster, the dumb, greedy athlete or the bumbling assistant.

Sampson wishes he could be so lucky. Even at 20-4 and with a team capable of winning the national championship, the heat is significant. To dodge responsibility is impossible, and to hope for fans to rally around him is unlikely.

If anything, the calls have been to oust both Sampson and Greenspan, the man who boldly vouched for him over talented straight arrows such as John Beilein.

It's that sentiment that makes things tougher for Sampson. The Hoosier fan base still is fractured; there are some who feel the program is getting what it deserves for firing Knight back in 2000. Many, such as Kitchel, never supported Sampson and would welcome a change.

"I just never thought he was a good fit," Kitchel said. "He was a little bit of a con man on the sidelines. There (were) the violations. He never graduated anybody."

Sampson has refused to discuss in detail the current scandal, and at this point, there isn't much he can say. In 2006, he said the original charges were misunderstood, that his graduation rate wasn't reflective of reality and he wasn't a bad guy. Today those explanations ring ridiculous.

"Nobody likes to be criticized," he said then. "Nobody likes to be called derogatory names. But I know who I am. I'm not going to change."

Apparently that was the problem.

Sampson is a likable guy, blue collar and hard driving. After winning at so many unlikely stops, he was appreciative to have the chance at a traditional power in the middle of a mother lode of talent.

Indiana produces so many great players that four state schools – Butler, IU, Purdue and Notre Dame – are ranked in the top 20. Ohio State made the national title game a year ago because of two Indianapolis kids – Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.

So given his undeniable coaching acumen, Sampson was correct back in 2006. All he had to do was ride that local talent and stay out of trouble. It was simple, really.

In five years he would have won so many games that no one would have remembered his past.

Instead, just a season and a half later, he has made sure no one can forget it.

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