Louisville and Kenny Payne have agreed on a deal for the former Cardinals player and current New York Knicks assistant to become the men’s basketball program’s first Black head coach, said a person with knowledge of the situation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been publicly announced. The University of Louisville Athletic Association is scheduled to meet Friday morning and the school will hold a news conference at the Cardinals’ KFC Yum! Center home arena.
Payne, 55, will replace Chris Mack when he begins work in his first head coaching job. Payne has spent the past two years with Knicks after 10 years as a Kentucky assistant on John Calipari's staff. He was also an assistant at Oregon.
“He is a dear friend, and I will tell you that they could not hire anybody that will do a better job than Kenny Payne,” Calipari said Wednesday at a NCAA Tournament news conference in Indianapolis. “I may say he should have been hired before there, but, you know what, they get him, they got the best of the best.”
Payne had been mentioned as Louisville's top target from the moment Mack was out on Jan. 26 after three-plus seasons. Payne is praised not only as an excellent recruiter for luring some of the Wildcats top talent during his time in Lexington, and is also credited with developing many of their star post players.
As a player Payne scored 1,089 points from 1985-89 at Louisville under Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum. He was a freshman reserve on the Cardinals' 1986 national championship squad.
The Mississippi native faces two huge tasks returning to his alma mater.
Payne's immediate priority is leading the program back from a 13-19 finish. He will have to deal with possible NCAA penalties resulting from a 2017 federal corruption investigation of college basketball. Louisville awaits an outcome from The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) over NCAA allegations against the program following the federal corruption investigation of college basketball.
The IARP was created out of proposals from the commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball.
Louisville assistant Mike Pegues served two stints as interim coach, guiding the Cardinals to a 5-1 start while Mack was suspended before taking over again following his departure. Louisville finished 13-19 and was eliminated in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
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