John Calipari, Kenny Payne will reunite on Arkansas basketball staff

Former Louisville men's basketball head coach Kenny Payne is reuniting with John Calipari at Arkansas.

Payne, 57, will serve as associate head coach on Calipari's new staff after the former Kentucky head coach of 15 years left the Wildcats for the Razorbacks, according to the men's basketball team on X, formerly Twitter.

Payne's time leading the Cardinals, his first head-coaching gig, was brief — and disastrous. He was fired in March after overseeing the two worst seasons in modern program history and left his alma mater with a 12-52 record.

Kentucky’s John Calipari and Louisville coach Kenny Payne meet each other at mid court before the game between the two schools on Thursday, December 21, 2023
Kentucky’s John Calipari and Louisville coach Kenny Payne meet each other at mid court before the game between the two schools on Thursday, December 21, 2023

"While there have been brief moments of progress," U of L athletics director Josh Heird told reporters the day of Payne's ouster, "I did not see the sustained progression I was looking for.

"While this decision was incredibly difficult to make because of who Kenny is and what he means to our university, I do feel it is the correct decision for this program and this department," he added. "I want to thank Kenny and his family for pouring their hearts into Louisville. We wish them well; as Kenny's coaching career will undoubtedly continue elsewhere."

The U of L Athletic Association (ULAA) agreed to pay Payne a total severance amount of $7,250,000, doled out in monthly installments of $201,388.88 until "on or about" March 31, 2027; according to a copy of the separation agreement obtained by The Courier Journal via an open records request.

Additionally, the parties agreed upon ULAA covering the monthly cost of health insurance for Payne and any eligible dependents until June 30, 2025, or until he becomes employed in a position that offers coverage.

He has "no obligation" to seek other jobs in order to receive his buyout money, according to the document, which also includes a non-disparagement clause.

Payne joined Calipari's staff at UK in 2010 as an assistant after five years of working under Ernie Kent at Oregon. In 2014, he was promoted to associate head coach; a position he held until leaving for a job on Tom Thibodeau's New York Knicks staff in 2020.

Together, he and Calipari went 295-74, reached four Final Fours and won a national championship in 2012.

In the process, Payne built a track record of recruiting success and developing bigs into future NBA stars. Speaking to The Athletic in 2019, one of those players, Karl-Anthony Towns, called him "the horse beneath the jockey driving Kentucky basketball."

Those qualities did not translate to success when he was introduced as the successor to Chris Mack at Louisville, and the first Black head coach in program history, on March 18, 2022. Under his guidance, the Cards lost more games by 20 or more points than they won.

Still, he remained steadfast in his belief that what he inherited called for a three- to four-year rebuild.

"Whether I'm the coach or not," Payne said after what proved to be his final game, "I can look in the mirror and say, 'I gave it everything I had to help this program.'"

U of L lost to Kentucky by a combined margin of 181-139 — averaging out to 21 points — during Payne's tenure. Before both installments of the rivalry, he drew criticism from some Cards fans for saying he would be fine with beating Calipari by a point.

Reach Louisville men's basketball reporter Brooks Holton at and follow him on X at @brooksHolton.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: John Calipari bringing Kenny Payne to Arkansas basketball