So, who’s it going to be?
It’s Tuesday, April 2, a whole week after the University of Arkansas parted ways with head basketball coach Mike Anderson, and we still don’t have a replacement.
Over the weekend, a source with ties to the athletic department told us Kelvin Sampson of Houston was a lock. This same source was on the money with Chad Morris back in 2017. But in the world of athletics, especially college athletics, is anything ever really a lock?
I’m told Sampson, who took his Cougars to the Sweet Sixteen this year, was offered a deal, and some in the department felt confident he’d take it. But Houston, too, offered Sampson, 63, a contract extension worth $3 million a year (Anderson made approximately $2.5 million this year after a January 2018 extension).
Houston booster Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire owner of Landry’s Inc., the Houston Rockets and the Golden Nugget Casinos, promised Sampson wouldn’t leave on account of money. He’s committed to keeping Sampson. And why wouldn’t he be? The University of Houston’s completely renovated basketball arena now bears his name thanks to a $20 million donation to transform what was once Hofheinz Pavilion.
But Arkansas is no chump. Twitter chatter from media types outside of the state questioned whether or not Arkansas had enough money to draw Sampson out. I laughed. They don’t know Arkansas. The real question is whether or not Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek, Sampson’s former boss, would want to get into a bidding war with Houston.
This could also be just another case of Arkansas getting “Malzahned.” Following the release of head football coach Bret Bielema in 2017, the University was linked to Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, a former Arkansas high school coach and UA offensive coordinator. Malzahn used the leverage to get a 7-year, $49 million extension from Auburn. Les Miles did more or less the same thing a few years back while still at LSU.
Is Sampson just another high-profile coach using Arkansas to get a nice big raise? Was the deal rumored to have been in place just a head fake to get Houston to give him more dollars, more years and perhaps even an opportunity for his son Kellen once he retires?
It’s curious that Sampson, who’s had an offer on the same from Houston for about a week, hasn’t yet signed. If he wants to stay in Houston, what’s he waiting for?
I suspect something will come down the pipe today. Houston-based reporters are suggesting a Sampson and Houston are close to finalizing a deal.
So where does that leave Arkansas? Did Yurachek have a Plan B? Chris Beard is out of the question. I’m sorry, you can forget that. Is it Eric Musselman? Thad Matta? Or a dark horse no one else is even discussing?
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics Editor Caleb Talley dishes on all things business and politics in and around the Natural State. Opinions stated in this series are his own and do not necessarily reflect that of Vowell, Inc. and its employees. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more Cash & Candor here, or you can read his features in our latest issue of AMP.