Kenny Payne becomes Louisville’s first full-time Black head coach

Payne signed a six-year-contract in the history-making appointment for the men's basketball squad

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Kenny Payne has been tapped as the new head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Louisville. 

Payne, 55, most recently served as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks. His new contract with the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team is for six years (through the 2027-28 season) with a salary of $3.35 million per year, per the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The new gig makes Payne the first full-time Black head coach of the UofL program.

“Our fans and community deserve a championship basketball program fueled by exceptional and high-character student-athletes, and it is my responsibility to deliver on that vision. I cannot wait to get started,” said Payne in a release from U of L Athletics.

As reported by Sports Illustrated, prior to joining the Knicks in 2020, Payne spent five seasons as an assistant coach for the University of Oregon, followed by ten seasons as an assistant coach and associate head coach under head coach John Calipari at the University of Kentucky.

As an athlete, Payne played four years with the Cardinals from 1985 to 1989 and helped Louisville win a national championship in 1986, WLKY News reports. 

“After a thorough national search during which we sat down with a number of expectational coaches, it was clear that Kenny Payne was what we need,” said U of L interim athletic director Josh Heird, in the release.

“His basketball knowledge, his passion for his student-athletes, his vision for our program and his understanding of what Louisville Basketball means to our city and to our institution, are evident,” Heird added, noting that he is “thrilled” to welcome Kenny and his wife Michelle, and their children, Alexis and Zan, to the university.

Payne replaces former coach Chris Mack, who mutually parted ways with U of L in January. Assistant coach Mike Pegues has since led the program.

Assistant coach Kenny Payne of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Rupp Arena on Jan. 30, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“I want to thank President Gonzalez and Josh Heird for this incredible opportunity to return to a place that means so much to me to lead our storied basketball program,” said Payne in the release. “While there are challenges, I see opportunities, and if we are united and aligned, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

“Being here, trusting this University, trusting Denny Crum and Wade Houston to bring me here, and help me become a man, and now I get to do that for other kids. You don’t get these opportunities very often,” Payne said.

Payne’s introductory press conference was held Friday morning at the KFC Yum Center with Gov. Andy Beshear in attendance along with Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie, and several former and current Uof L players, WLKY reports. 

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