Louisville basketball coach Kenny Payne’s seat is now beyond hot. It’s melting. It was probably that way before Wednesday’s 75-63 home loss to Arkansas State, but a double-digit loss to a team that entered the Yum Center with a 3-7 record only adds more fuel to the fire.
Many thought Payne should have been fired after a 4-28 debut season, the worst in modern history for the Cardinals. To be fair, Payne, a member of the 1986 national championship team, did have a cloud of possible NCAA sanctions hanging over the program. However, that still didn’t shelter him from criticism as UofL suffered some surprising early-season losses last year.
This season started off shaky as well, but by the end of November, Payne and the Cards had matched their wins total from last season and bolstered their position in the Kentucky sports betting conversation. There were still some head-scratching losses, like an 81-71 defeat to Chattanooga in the second game, but UofL also nearly beat a ranked Texas team. It wasn’t a 180, but some fans were seeing what they thought was the beginning of a turnaround.
December has all but ended any of that hope. After a tough but respectable loss at Virginia Tech, Louisville has followed that with losses at DePaul, whose own coach is also on the hot seat, and now to the Red Wolves. DePaul is currently ranked No. 265 in the NCAA Net Rankings. Arkansas State is now No. 224, up 29 spots after Wednesday’s win.
Louisville now is No. 293 out of 362 teams. No Power Five school is ranked lower. Louisville’s odds of winning the ACC at ESPN BET Kentucky are second from the bottom at +8000.
Midseason Firing Raises Another Question
The question now isn’t if Payne will be fired. Instead, it’s really a matter of when at this point. He already leads our College Basketball Coaching Hot Seat Odds by a significant margin.
Many are calling for Athletic Director Josh Heird to make the move right now, and while it’s probably deserved, there are questions of what exactly that would accomplish. According to TeamRankings.com, Louisville is expected to, maybe, win four ACC games and eight overall. There’s almost no hope to turn the season around and make a push to the postseason, so a move now won’t cure all ills.
So, when will UofL pull the plug on Kenny Payne? Here are theoretical odds on when that might happen.
End of the Line at Season’s End?
It’s most likely a move won’t happen until March. That would allow for a clean break at the end of the season and still give Heird and the school plenty of time to find the next coach, who probably will be guiding his team in the NCAA Tournament anyway.
A February move could happen if Louisville reaches 20 losses during that month, which is looking more and more inevitable. Fan support for the program is at a historic low, with thousands of seats unfilled in the Yum Center for each game. The final three regular season games are at home, so making a move in February — even if it’s just an announcement that Payne’s gone at season’s end — could lead to more fans showing up for those contests.
As I noted, there are questions about what a December move would accomplish. That said, Louisville hosts arch-rival Kentucky next Thursday in what’s shaping up to be a very ugly game — Caesars Sportsbook Kentucky lists the Wildcats as +1400 to win the national title. There’s a nearly two-week break after that game. If there’s someone who can take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season, that two-week window — albeit over the holidays — could be used to make that transition.
Louisville does have 22 games left on the schedule, so there is a chance, a remote chance, Payne can turn this thing around. However, TeamRankings only has the Cardinals as favored to win two of those games, and there are 13 games where UofL has less than a 20% chance of winning. It’s the longest of long shots, but if Payne can manage a .500 record and possibly an NIT berth, then maybe — maybe — he gets a third year.
But don’t bet on that.