Digging Into Kelvin Sampson’s New Contract

Coach Sampson with his favorite cheerleader / Photo by Mario Puente

The contract Kelvin Sampson agreed to in April 2019 was finally completed this week. Dr. Khator, AD Chris Pezman, and UH General Counsel Dona Cornell signed the contract on March 10, two days before the Coogs left for the to-be-canceled conference tournament. For reasons unknown, Kelvin did not sign until Tuesday.

Terms agreed to in April 2019 include the length of the deal (until the final game in spring 2025), his new salary ($300,000), and additional compensation amount ($2,700,000). There is no deferred compensation as had been included in his last two contracts but a clause was added to increase the ‘additional compensation’ $100,000 every time the Cougars are “selected to appear” in the NCAA Tournament. Sampson’s previous contract had a one-time NCAA Tournament bonus.

Even though UH was a lock to earn an NCAA berth in March, the contract has no provision to account for or pay a bonus for the unplayed 2020 NCAA Tournament. Sampson’s total compensation will remain $3 million in 2020-21 although he will be taking a 10% “salary” reduction for the next 6 months, due to the fallout from the Coronavirus.

President Khator, Pezman, and football coach Dana Holgorsen also agreed to a temporary compensation reduction. It’s unclear whether UH leaders will reduce their overall pay or just the base salary portion. UH athletics employees are expected to report back to work on Tuesday, May 26th.

Job Offers & Termination Clauses Changed Significantly

Kelvin’s previous contract stated that if he were to be presented with or interested in another job, then he “must notify the AD of any such opportunity or interest and oral or written permission must be given before any discussions can be held.” Now, the contract says “Coach must notify the AD of such opportunity or interest before discussions can be held.” Permission is no longer needed.

The wording of liquidated damages, from Sampson or UH, has been changed as well. Previously, if “Coach leaves UH for any position at a college or university or a coaching or front office position with an NBA team,” then “Coach shall pay the University 85% of the total remaining base salary prorated from the date of termination.” A stipulation reduced the amount to 75% after Mack Rhoades left for Missouri.

Now, if Sampson terminates the contract “for any coaching position” then “Coach shall pay UH liquidated damages in the amount of the Base Salary and Additional Compensation.”

That’s a big change and it could benefit each side. Most notable, leaving for an NBA front-office job is no longer mentioned or penalized. That could be significant and, I believe, the biggest news to come out of the contract.

Previously, the liquidated damages from coach to school were based on his $550,000 base salary and would have been prorated off of $412,500 (75%) per year. The new contract states that leaving for another coaching job would cost him $3,000,000 per year prorated. If he left today, he wouldn’t owe UH anything if he took an NBA front-office job but would be on the hook for $15,000,000 if he took a coaching job.

In the previous deal, if UH terminated the contract with cause then only the base salary (100%) was due. Now, 100% of the base salary and additional compensation would be due.

Sampson is signed through the end of the 2024-25 season / Photo by Mario Puente

Odds & Ends

Kelvin’s duty to mitigate, or find another job should UH fire him, has been changed. Language has been added that, as long as UH is paying part of his salary, his new job must be at the “actual market rate” that similar positions would pay.

UH also inserted a new clause, unused in previous head coaching contracts, that says the University “reserves the right to adjust the compensation due if the new compensation appears contrived to rely upon payments” from UH, including if payments balloon:

This is the “Tony Levine Provision.” When Levine was fired in 2014, he spent a year away from coaching, and UH paid his full monthly buyout installments during that time. But when he accepted a job at Western Kentucky in early 2016, his pay was just $50,000 which was well below his actual market rate. That left UH on the hook for $200,000 a year. This is the University’s response to that situation.

Other Small Changes From Previous Contract

Kelvin’s MOU from last April and this contract include some differences in bonuses. These changes are likely due to the higher expectations that come with much-higher compensation but they also fairly reward success.

Now, 4500 season tickets sold get a $10,000 bonus (to get $10,000 in the last contract, only 3500 had to be sold). A regular-season championship goes from a $10,000 bonus to a $25,000 bonus (which would have been paid for the 2019-2020 season. Conference title ties are included). But after the pay raise, conference tournament championships do not get a $25,000 bonus. Gone, too, are $10,000 bonuses for each opening round and round of 32 wins in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, in an effort to incentivize making advancing to the next site, getting out of the first weekend results in a $50,000 bonus. There are no longer separate bonuses for winning the Sweet 16 game ($20,000) or in the Elite 8 ($25,000). Now, making the Final Four gets a $50,000 bonus.

While certain parts might be smaller, the bonus structure can benefit Sampson. A Final Four appearance would net $200,000 total when combining advancement to the next site with the $100,000 “selected to appear” bonus. Previously, a Final Four appearance would have been netted him just $105,000.

NIT wins, other than a championship, receive no bonus (previously, getting to the NIT was $5000 and each NIT game win gave him $2500). Clearly, expectations have changed.

The contract allows for private plane usage for games over 250 miles and for some recruiting.

You can view the full contract here.

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