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Report: Louisville coach Kenny Payne to be fired after going 12-52 in two seasons

Kenny Payne
Kenny Payne

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville plans to fire coach Kenny Payne after he went 12-52 in two seasons, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Louisville officials had not yet met with Payne.

The coach said after the Cardinals’ 94-85 first-round loss to North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament that he had not been informed of his status with the program.

Asked about making a case to return for a third season, Payne reiterated several points made at his March 2022 introduction about needing support and time to rebuild his alma mater — and also watching to see “who jumped on and off the Titanic.”

Payne said, “We sort of forgot that” several times and added, “We talked about, I gave a specific time. I said three or four years. And I’m good with it. That’s what I believed at that time, and that’s what I still believe it takes to fix this program.”

Payne went 8-24 this season and 3-17 in the ACC, and the most recent loss was the Cardinals’ eighth in a row. Louisville is 1-28 away from home under the former Cardinals player and has just five wins in ACC play.

Payne has a six-year contract that runs through 2028 and calls for an $8 million buyout by April 1. He was paid a $3.35 million annual salary, plus incentives.

The Mississippi native was hired amid a public appeal for him to return to the Cardinals after the firing of Chris Mack. Payne was a 1,000-point scorer while playing under Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum from 1985-89.

He played briefly in the NBA before starting a coaching career that included 10 years as an assistant under John Calipari at Kentucky and two years as an assistant with the New York Knicks.

Payne’s experience as a recruiter and developer of post players didn’t serve him in his first head coaching job. Louisville began 0-9 on the way to an historic 4-28 finish last season, a program high for losses.

The Cardinals continued to struggle on both ends of the floor this season and lost games to opponents they were expected to beat. Discussion about Payne’s future ramped up last fall with a slow start featuring double-digit losses to DePaul, Arkansas State and archrival Kentucky before the Cardinals regrouped to rout Pepperdine. Athletic director Josh Heird said then that Payne would coach into the new year.

As the losses mounted, attendance at their 22,090-seat home arena cratered to just over a quarter of its capacity.

Criticism on local sports talk radio and social media was consistent, and Payne didn’t help matters with verbal missteps in postgame news conferences. There was also blowback last fall following the confusing departure of Koron Davis, who disputed the school’s initial announcement that he wanted to transfer. A subsequent release stated that he was dismissed, though the player has been spotted at Cardinals home games.