Why Clock is Running Out on Kenny Payne at Louisville

Why Clock is Running Out on Kenny Payne at Louisville
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

Years ago, Bum Phillips, then an NFL coach, gave a great quote about then Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, under whom he worked as an assistant at Texas A&M. Bryant was such a great coach that he could “take his’n (players) and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”

I bring that up because when it comes to Louisville basketball coach Kenny Payne, I think the opposite is possible. After watching the Cardinals fall 72-50 at home Wednesday to a 10-16 Notre Dame squad, I believe Payne could not only take his players and lose but then take the opponent’s players and lose to his.

A Fighting Irish squad that entered Wednesday having made less than 30% of its 3-point shots went 12-for-27 against the worst defensive team in the ACC. With the loss, Louisville now stands at 8-19 and last in the conference with a 3-13 record, a huge disappointment to its backers at Kentucky sports betting sites. A second straight 20-loss season for once mighty UofL is now a certainty, as is the likelihood Payne will not get a third season at his alma mater.

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A Second Season of Misery

That Payne’s on the hot seat is not news. He’s been the favorite for the next college basketball coach to be fired all season. It’s still a controversial topic for some Louisville fans, but a majority of Card Nation was ready to move on after last season’s 4-28 debacle.

The frustrating thing for most fans now is they can see the talent, albeit mostly raw, in the team’s key players. There’s a core there with Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Mike James, Skyy Clark, Ty-Laur Johnson, Kaleb Glenn and Curtis Williams that can (and should) be a competitive team. Am I talking about an Elite Eight-type team? No, but one that should not lose badly to the likes of Notre Dame (No. 142 in the KenPom ratings), DePaul (No. 308), Chattanooga (No. 132) and Arkansas State (No. 145).

Louisville, by the way, is No. 199 out of 362 teams. That’s because a lot of the same mistakes that were made last year, especially on defense, are still too prevalent this season. The only consistency the Cards have shown throughout Payne’s tenure is when it comes to looking disorganized on the floor. That’s not a talent issue. That’s a coaching one.

I wish there was better news for Louisville fans and that there was an easy fix here. However, this isn’t 2001, and there’s no slam-dunk hire like Rick Pitino out there to replace Denny Crum this time around.

Beyond that, Louisville won’t be the only major program looking to make a change in the offseason. Ohio State fired Chris Holtmann last week. Michigan is likely to let Juwan Howard go, and Indiana could decide it’s time to move on from Mike Woodson. Those Big Ten programs will have plenty of money to offer a new coach.

At the top side of college basketball, Kentucky betting apps list Connecticut as the favorite to win the NCAA men’s basketball national championship at +500. Purdue is second at +800.

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Who’s Next for Louisville?

There have been a few names bandied about by Cardinals fans as to who they would like to see on the Yum Center’s sideline next season. Alabama’s Nate Oats is mentioned, but he has a $10 million buyout on his contract in Tuscaloosa ($12 million before March 15). That’s on top of the $8 million Louisville would need to pay on Payne’s buyout before April 1 ($6 million after) and whatever contract they offer Oats, who makes $4.5 million a year already.

Oats and the Crimson Tide have odds of +2000 to win the national championship at DraftKings Kentucky.

Jerome Tang took Kansas State to the Final Four last season, beating Kentucky along the way, but this year, his Wildcats are 15-11 and have lost seven of their last eight, albeit in a tough Big 12 conference. The only win in that stretch was against Kansas. Tang’s buyout is $6 million.

Dusty May took Florida Atlantic to the title game last season, and he has the Owls in line for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this season. May also happens to be from Southern Indiana, not far from Louisville. That said, if the Hoosiers job becomes available, he’d likely be more inclined to go there since he graduated from IU and was a student manager under Bobby Knight. ESPN BET Kentucky gives FAU +3000 to make it back to the Final Four this season.

Other names that could be considered or mentioned over the next few weeks — UCLA’s Mick Cronin, Chris Beard at Ole Miss, Oklahoma’s Porter Moser, Wake Forest’s Steve Forbes and Lamont Paris at South Carolina. Expect others as well.

It used to be that when people talked about Louisville basketball as March Madness approached, the discussion focused on how far the Cardinals might advance in the tourney. This March, UofL fans hope whoever is hired in the coming weeks will get people talking about the Cards that way again and soon.



Steve Bittenbender

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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