Kenny Payne ready for many challenges as a Louisville coach

Kenny Payne has made it clear that he will need help as he begins a major mission with his first job as head coach in Louisville.

Payne was introduced Friday as the Cardinals ’men’s basketball coach and was given a six-year contract until 2027-28 to lead the program. The University of Louisville Athletic Association approved the contract Friday morning. Financial conditions were not immediately available.

Payne, a former Cardinal player, was among the familiar faces at a crowded press conference at KFC Yum! Center that included Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and several former teammates he called “brothers.”

Flanked by his family, including his son Zan, a Kentucky player, Payne asked attendees to stand up and emphasized that he would seek his opinion.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Payne said, “but I know what I have to accept this job and try to help build the answers. I’m a person. I’m not here alone again. I’m not here alone.”


Payne, 55, is Louisville’s first black coach and returns to his alma mater after nearly two seasons as an assistant to the NBA New York Knicks. He also spent 10 seasons on John Calipari’s staff in rival Kentucky and another five in Oregon.

The school conducted a national search through an outside company and acting sporting director Josh Heird said he spoke with several coaches, who stressed that Payne was what the school needed. The AD added at a news conference: “What surprised me was that support outside the community was even greater.”

Payne replaces Mike Pegues, who served two seasons as interim coach, scoring 7-11 overall. Pegues took over when Chris Mack left in late January after more than three seasons as coach.

As a player, Payne scored 1,089 points between 1985-89 under Crum. It was a new reserve in the Cardinals team for the 1986 national championship.

Payne’s immediate priority is to bring the program back from 13-19. It will also have to deal with possible NCAA sanctions arising from a federal college basketball corruption investigation in 2017. Louisville awaits an outcome of the Independent Liability Resolution Process (IARP) on NCAA charges against the program. IARP was created based on proposals from the commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball.


Payne said he understood the magnitude of what could happen and asked Heird about it during the interview process.

“To accept the job at the University of Louisville, it took a long time to get to this point,” he said. “I say, give me the worst of cases. Don’t give me the best. I know. What’s the best. Give me the worst. I understand what that means.”

Payne added that he has spoken to numerous people, including Calipari, about taking on the high-profile job considered one of the best in the country. All the responses were positive: that he was able to handle it.

Calipari said on Wednesday that Louisville could not hire anyone who could do a better job than Payne, and added: “I can say that I should have been hired before there, but you know, they get the best of the best.”

Congratulations soon followed the news of Payne’s hiring, including a morning text from the University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto. Although he will now put Payne on the opposite end of the Kentucky band when the Bluegrass rivalry resumes next season, both schools understand the importance of him being there.


“What I was told was that for this state to be great, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have to be excellent,” he said. “How powerful is that?”


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Kenny Payne ready for many challenges as a Louisville coach

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