Interim President Dr. Lori Stewart Gonzalez
“Isn’t it a great day to be a Cardinal? We want to thank everybody for being part of this wonderful celebration. This a big day for Cardinal sports, we have the bookend of welcoming Kenny Payne back home, and end the day with our women’s basketball team trouncing UAlbany. Cardinal fans always have something to celebrate, today we have baseball, softball, tennis – so you can make sure you root your Cardinals on in whatever sport you love. Cardinal basketball is more than just a game. It’s important to our city, it’s important to campus, and we are so pleased today to have this wonderful announcement. I need to thank our board of trustees and our ULAA Board for all of their support and I want to thank Mike Pegues who stepped up during a really difficult time to bring consistency and leadership to our young men this past year. Some of you might think this is not really an ideal time to do a search when you have an interim president, and an interim A.D., but when you have somebody like Kenny Payne that you might be able to catch, you do it whenever you can. Everyone in this room owes a debt of gratitude to Josh Heird. He went about the search with professionalism, with integrity and confidentiality up to a certain point. But he listened and he listened and he did his homework and he landed our top target. So Josh, on behalf of the whole Cardinal community, thank you. I had a chance to meet with our new coach earlier this week and talked about everything from standup comics to the integrity of our program, to the role that this position plays in our community. And I can tell you, he shares our vision, he shares our values and he shares our commitment to excellence – and I cannot wait to have him back in Cardinal Red and Black. We are fortunate today to have Governor Beshear here to celebrate with us. Governor would you like to say a few words?”
Governor Andy Beshear
“Good morning, everybody. I get the excitement to not only start my day in this building, but I will be here tonight cheering on the women’s team. Today is a really good day for the University of Louisville. Actually, I think today is a great day for the University of Louisville. Today UofL takes a really good step, and my belief is that there are many better days ahead for this university and that is because Kenny Payne is home. Kenny Payne is a man of integrity. He’s a great recruiter, a great developer of players, a great coach of the game, and he has over three decades of basketball experience. Kenny is also, most importantly, a great person. Kenny is going to bring stability to this program and he’s going to be a major part of this community. Rarely do you see a hire so good, even the rival coach says it was the right move. And to steal a term, the baseball team does a whole lot for UofL, this hire is an absolute home run. I am committed to our state universities and ensuring that this university is not only back on track, but is thriving. Thriving not just in sports, but thriving for our Kentucky students who come here to get an amazing education. Basketball is an important part of our culture here in Kentucky and it shows that Kenny is already united in bringing this community together on day one. It’s really special to see legendary coach Denny Crum welcoming you at the airport and here; and Coach Walz is here… Darrell Griffith and so many different players are here to show their support for this hire. And we want to welcome Kenny’s family to Louisville. And a huge congratulations to Josh Heird for running a great process with integrity. And when you run a process with integrity, you get a coach with integrity. Louisville is one of the greatest programs in college basketball – three national championships, 10 Final Fours – but I know with a great new coach, there are many more to come. So thank you to Kenny, thank you to his family. This is, by far, the best possible choice. I’m excited, you’re excited, but you know what? With a guy like Kenny Payne, the whole Commonwealth is excited. Thank you very much.”
Interim Athletic Director Josh Heird
“How about this day? We’re going to celebrate it. We’re going to celebrate it today all the way past the women’s game and the women’s victory tonight. A couple of thank yous here. Thank you to Dr. Lori Gonzalez for trusting me through this process. I understand the responsibility I was given. I hope that was reflected in the manner with which I conducted this process. Glenn (Sugiyama) I’ve spent more time with you these last two weeks than I’ve spent with my wife and kids. But through it all, you’ve been an ally who has helped me tremendously, thank you. Before we begin the newest chapter of Louisville Basketball, I need to make sure I thank a number of people who have worked tirelessly for this program. Many of these people did this work not knowing if they had a job at the conclusion of this season. Thank you to Mike Pegues, Kahil Fennell, Taylor Barnette, Ross McMains, Christen Cunningham, Seth Tatum, Andrew Lentz, Matt Stebbins, Reece Gaines, Ty Sampson, Stephanie Davis, DeVante Frazier and Andy Kettler. Each one of you has my respect and the respect of this athletic department and I can assure you UofL fans appreciate how you’ve handled yourselves during this transition.
Second, I need to thank the players on this team. As we all know, there was turmoil surrounding this season, but this group of young men continued to work hard for this university and this community – thanks guys.
The drive to finish something even when things aren’t going your way is a measure of your integrity and your character. It’s with these traits in mind that we turn the page to the newest chapter of Louisville basketball. As we began the search for the newest person who would lead this program, there were certain characteristics that were non-negotiables for me: integrity, character, work ethic, the drive to always do the right thing, creating what we call a culture of excellence. If you had a track record of taking shortcuts or your character had been called to question during your time as a coach, I told Glenn I wouldn’t entertain a conversation. As I embarked on this process, I had a coach ask me what qualities were most important to me. I told him I need someone who had the ability to serve as an ambassador for a basketball team, a university and a city of a million-plus people. As I explained to him, when Louisville Basketball wins games, it changes the mood of this town. And when Louisville Basketball loses a game, it changes the mood of this town. But more important than wins and losses, does this person have the ability to connect? Connect generations of players, connect younger fans to older fans, connect Black fans to White fans, connect a university to a city. Because when this city is connected, it’s one of the greatest places on earth. Everyone in this room has seen and felt that connection and that’s why we all love the University of Louisville. The one question I had to answer above all others wasn’t whether or not the coaches I talked to could coach, every one of them had proven that ability. Rather the right person for this job had to prove to me whether they were willing and able to shoulder the challenge of connecting the city. I was able to speak to many of the top coaches around the country. I said it before the process started, this is one of the top jobs in the country. The caliber of coaches I talked to proved just that.
Coaches weren’t the only people I spoke to throughout this process. I would hope that our fans would understand that I went to great lengths to listen to what many of you thought was needed to lead this program back to the top of college basketball. The more I listened, the more I found out about the person who is sitting on this stage today. In fact, during the end of the search, I told Lori (Gonzalez), sometimes when the answer is staring you in the face, you have to stop asking questions. As you can imagine, the support for our head coach was loud and resounding from this community, but what surprised me, was that the support for this man outside of this community was even stronger. I worked extremely hard to talk to people who could give me an objective opinion about this job and this man. Time and time again, the conversations were the same. “Josh, you’re getting one of the greatest human beings you’ll ever come across;” “Josh, this man cares about people. He cares about kids.” This one from a friend who has absolutely no ties to this communities or this program, it’s from a person who has been around the best in the game for a multitude of years, “you’re getting a ton as a human, as a man and as a coach.” One more from a friend and pretty good basketball coach himself, “If you can get him, it’s a home run. The respect he has created around the game is immeasurable, but it won’t be easy, because the Knicks won’t want to lose him.” Well guess what – they didn’t want to lose him and getting to this point wasn’t easy. I owe one more thank you to the leadership of that organization, James Dolan, Leon Rose, William Wesley, thank you for understanding why this man needed to be here today. They understood this is bigger than basketball.
The last piece of the puzzle was finding out from this man himself. Are you ready to do this? Are you humble enough to surround yourself with a staff around you that will make you better, that will make this program better? It was quickly clear in our conversations that he understood the magnitude of this job. He understood this wasn’t going to be easy. He made it clear that he was going to need help. But he was confident in his ability to create the greatness that so many of you in this room have felt from this program. The same greatness that he helped achieve when he won a national title here. And just like those days in 1980, 1986 and, yes, 2013. This is a day for the University of Louisville to celebrate. It’s a day to look back on the successes that this program has had, the memories that this program has created for each one of us, but most of all, it’s a day to celebrate the future of this program. We should all be proud that we are hiring the first Black head coach in the storied history of this program. We should all be proud that we are hiring an alumni and former student-athlete. But most of all, we should be proud of the fact that we are hiring one of the very best basketball coaches in the country. For a multitude of reasons, it’s a day to be extremely proud to be a Louisville Cardinal. With that in mind, let me introduce you to a great person, a great coach, but most of all, a great connector. The Head Basketball Coach of the University of Louisville, Kenny Payne.”
Louisville Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kenny Payne
“It’s unbelievable, it’s surreal. Only in the state of Kentucky, can you get the Governor to come to a press conference for basketball. Thank you for coming. First of all, let me just do this so that I feel good about what I’m doing here today. Can all my brothers stand up please? When I think about this job, and stick with me on this, this is unbelievably emotional. When evaluating the job and saying, ‘Kenny Payne, do you really want this job? Do you really want to do this? This is bigger than Kenny Payne. This is one of the main reasons I took this job is for you guys.
Just so everybody fully understands this, I have to thank the New York Knicks. I have to thank Jim Dolan personally because we had a conversation last night and hopefully you understand what I’m about to say. That organization was unbelievable to me. And for me to walk away from it, and for him to give me his blessing, it was not easy. More than I can tell you, it was not easy. To leave my brothers, Leon Rose and William Wesley, was not easy. Over the last few days, William Wesley and Leon Rose and myself cried six, seven times a day for me to get out of there to come here. So, this was not an easy deal for me to just walk in here. I have to thank the staff at the Knicks, Coach (Tom) Thibodeau, all the coaches there, administrators, everybody. Again, it was an unbelievable experience with them. And I owe them the world.
To reflect back, just so you understand the magnitude of this. I go back to coming out of high school and being recruited by everybody in the country. The school I chose is this school and the reasons why I chose this school, coming from where I came from, I didn’t know much, and I had to have a father figure, which was Wade Houston. And I know that if he was here, he would have to tell you he had to spank me a couple of days. I had to have a great coach. Not a good coach, a great coach. Because there was so much I did not understand. And it’s amazing when you’re 55 years old, like I am now, and when you’re 18 years old, like I was then, and him saying to me then, Denny Crum, ‘Kenny, I need you to not try to get 30. I need you to get 12, six and six, Kenny’. And what exactly did that mean? That means, I need a complete basketball player. I need a basketball player that is about his teammates. Those lessons I teach today so Coach Crum, thank you.
Now, just so we all understand, I can’t do this job by myself. I can’t. I wish I could. I wish I could stand up here and tell you I have all the answers. I don’t. I really don’t. But, here’s what I know. I know that this is a University that’s built on success. The foundation of this University is pretty good, it’s actually great. It’s one of the reasons I came here. I need this University to support me. Support is very critical. You understand what I mean by support. It’s not when you’re doing good. Support is really when you’re doing bad. (To) this community, I don’t have all the answers. But, I know that I had to take this job and try to help build the answers. I’m one person. I’m not standing here by myself. Again, I’m not standing here by myself. Brothers, will you please stand up.
(To) this state, just so we are all clear. The president of the University of Kentucky (Eli Capilouto) texted me at three o’clock this morning, I think it was. ‘Kenny, I’m so happy for you, thank you for doing this’. What does that mean? Coach (John) Calipari calling me over the last two days, ‘Kenny, you have to take this job’. Understand here now, the University of Kentucky, what they did was embrace one of yours. They embraced one of yours, more than I could ever tell you, they embraced one of yours. I can’t do this by myself, but what they said to me was this, ‘in order for this state to be great, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have to be great’. How powerful is that?
So, here’s what that means to me. (To) the University. I need you. Josh (Heird), Lori (Stewart Gonzalez), I need you. The community, I need you. More than I can tell you, I need you. My brothers, I need you. I don’t need you to hit me in the head when it gets bad and I know you’re going to want to. This state, I need you. I need you and we need each other and we need to do the right things so that kids come through this program and they achieve their greatness.
And here’s the last thing I want to say. Alexander, would you please stand up? This is my son. During this journey of being a coach, just so you really understand what people are saying when coaches talk about the sacrifices their families make. When a mother and a father trust you with their kid, they are trusting their most prized possession. They’re trusting their most prized possession. As a coach, there’s a responsibility that goes with that. And to be honest with you, I’m going to say this, it supersedes your job. You are now a father. You are now a mentor. You are now a person that, at the most important time in this kid’s life, it’s now, it’s in your hands. The reason I want my son to stand up is because I want him to hear this message. To put other people’s kids first at times is a sacrifice for my family, for him. (There were times when) he needed me, I wasn’t always there. But, the most important lesson is I did it the right way. Every single day, the right way. I put other people first. I put the job second. But, I put people first, especially kids. At times, I didn’t get the publicity, the notoriety, the fame, but I didn’t care about that. I took on the responsibility and by doing right by others, every success that I’ve ever had came from that and that alone. And I want him to notice I worked my butt off to be good at my job. I really worked. I really studied from great coaches, not just good coaches, great coaches. And I did the right things for one reason. It’s the right thing to do. No agendas, none. In life, things aren’t always promised to you. I didn’t know I would ever end up here. The lesson is this, son. You work your tail off, you do right by people, you be an ambassador for good and your blessings will come. That’s the message I want you to hear.
I could go on and on, but really there is nothing more I can say. I’m so humbled. This is so surreal. This is unbelievable, to be able to come back and have a whole state behind you. I don’t think you really understand that the whole state embraced this. Let me take this a step further. I got calls from all over the United States. People like Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, ‘You ready? You’re ready for this’. The owner of Nike, Phil Knight called me yesterday and said, ‘you have to do this Kenny, it’s a top 10 job, it’s one of the best jobs in college basketball, go do it.’ The support has been off the chain. I’m humbled, that’s all I can leave you with is, I’m humbled. Let’s open it up for questions and go from there.”
(On the play style he plans to implement)
“Here is what I believe – the days of controlling a basketball game are over. It is easy to get beat if the coach is trying to control it. I believe you have to train and coach kids to play with structure, so with that being said, in order to do that, you have to be able to get out in transition. I would hope that I’m in a position where these kids are in the best possible condition of their life, that they defend with a ferociousness and a viciousness where they control the pace of the game. In order to be a great offensive team, I know now, without a doubt, you have to be a great passing team. That would be the way I see this, the way it has to be done. I know y’all don’t want to sit here and see a game in the 50s.”
(On where he sees the program starting in the new landscape)
“Great question. The landscape has changed. NIL, there are so many distractions for a young kid to make where the information can get diluted. I know I cannot lie to a mother and father. I know I have to have high character young men. I’m going to recruit their parents. I’m not going to go into a home and try to just get the kid and not try to get his support system. You all as adults understand the importance of that. I can’t do it that way. I have to be able to have a family buy into what I’m doing. It can’t be one-sided. When I say one-sided I mean, it can’t just be about the University of Louisville. It has to be about his goals. When I met with those three young men today I talked about that. If I do my job, which I’m not going to do by myself, it’s never going to be about Kenny Payne. It’s always going to be the kids who do it. I’ll take the blame, you’ll help me take the blame, but I’m going to put the success of the program on the kids. With that being said, I’m telling you it has to be a win-win. It’s about their dreams. I am not recruiting kids to come and just have fun. I want kids that are dream chasers. I’m going to ask kids, like I asked those three men today, ‘what are you willing to give up to reach your goals?” What will you sacrifice to be great? You have to talk it and speak it into existence. Some of this is not man, it’s God.”
(On if looming sanctions had an effect on his decision)
“That’s a great question and here’s what I’ll tell you – this isn’t easy. To accept a job at the University of Louisville it took a lot to get to this point. So, when Josh asks the question, “What gives you pause. What do you think about?” I said give me the worst-case scenario. Don’t give me the best. I know what the best is. Give me the worst, and he went through his mind what the worst could be. I took the job. Understand what that means, I took the job.”
(On what you look for in a coaching staff, and if there have been conversations with any of the current players)
“I talked to those three young men here today. What I will look for in a staff, and this may sound strange, I have a saying everywhere I’ve been as a coach; no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. What does that mean? There are brilliant basketball minds, that never are about young people. I can’t use you. No matter how smart, no matter how much knowledge you have in this game, you have to care about them. Because whatever happens in this period of their lives, from 18 to 22 or whatever, it’s going to last with them for the rest of their lives. We are looking at examples of it. So, when I put together this staff, I’m putting together men that love young people. Men that are going to put the kids first. The program first. Then themselves last, and that’s important to me. Yes, they have to be great basketball people. Yes, they have to be organized. Yes, they have to have success. I can’t have people that aren’t excellent at what they do around young people. It’s important that they have the best of the best.”
(On why to become a head coach now)
“That’s what Jim Dolan asked me last night. This is a unique situation. This isn’t just a job. Hopefully, you’re seeing this through my eyes. This isn’t a first-time head coach. This is you guys coaching with me. This is, I’m not up here by myself. My brothers are with me, this community has to be with me, this state has to be with me. With me isn’t when it’s good, it’s when it’s bad. There are going to be days we are going to go through adversity. I need you with me. Don’t jump on me when it’s good and then jump off the bandwagon when it’s bad. I need you when it’s bad. Because we have to do this together. Yes, I’ve had opportunities to be a head coach before now. It wasn’t right, this is right. The reason its right is because it’s not about me at all. It’s about all of you. I took this job for the University of Louisville, for the community, and for this state.”
(On Louisville’s deal with Adidas and the relationships with Adidas)
“Kenny Klein prepped me for that question. My bad Kenny (Klein), I didn’t mean to throw you under the bus buddy. We were prepared for you. I’m going to tell you what I told Kenny Klein last night that nobody knows. In 1989, Adidas endorsed six basketball players for their shoes. I was one of the six. I have an affiliation with Adidas. I was one of the first professional athletes in basketball that they endorsed. My relationship with Nike, to be clear, is not a working relationship. They are my family, the head guy that runs that organization is like my uncle. He’s a family member just like these guys. He loves me and I love him. The guys that run that organization, they are part of my family. They spent time together. What I’m saying to you is that we have the both of best worlds if that makes sense.”
(On if he ever thought he would be the head coach at Louisville)
“When the young kid came from Mississippi came to Louisville, Kentucky he could not read or write. As a young black kid from Mississippi, choosing the University of Louisville to play and get my education is representative of a lot of different things. It represents being the first African American head coach at this school. That comes with a heavy responsibility with the type of leadership that I must have. I must be an example for this community, to be all inclusive, and to help heal this community. That is a lot. I need you I cannot do this by myself. I am not a politician or a reverend. I am a man. A man that believes in doing right by people and I need help. This is a big deal for all young people who aspire to one day stand where I am right now.”
(On what it means to be the first black head coach of Louisville men’s basketball)
“It is the reason why I took this job. To bring people together. What if I am able and we can put this program at levels above where it was at its best. What if, we can win multiple championships. What if, I stood up here and said it’s not me. This community helped me to do this. What if, in doing all that I can stand here and say I am humble. This is bigger than me. That’s why I took this job.”
(On gaining the trust of the fans)
“Great question! I’m not hiding. For me to take this job I must open my heart and give it to you all so you can understand what I am going through. Meaning, I must be totally transparent in everything I do. Transparent in every way that I go about coaching this team and representing this university. There are two different kinds of success. We win for the moment, and it goes away. Then there is sustained success. Which is building a culture of winning with character, integrity, and humbleness. Real success is surrounding young people and having an environment that’s conducive to winning. With each young man that comes through this program being able to win in life and not just a basketball game. I do not know what basketball is. I have never experienced basketball. I know that to be great you must love it. You are fighting for your life. Whether your dream is to be in the NBA, or to be successful in a business world, you are fighting for your life. If I open myself up and I am saying it in front of the world how can a fan be against me? And does it really matter if he is?
(On the urgency of putting together his staff)
“How important it is for those young men that will be in this program to have the best of the best? Is it fair to them for me to quickly make decisions? Or do I take my time and evaluate exactly what I need to help young people. This is one of the most pivotal times in their lives. Should I put them around a guy who has a great basketball mind but a bad person? Or should I take my time in evaluate. Believe me I know that there is a rush. I must do what is best for this program, best for young people, and the university. As we all know there is a lot of mistakes being made throughout the landscape of college basketball.”
Interim AD Josh Heird Press Conference
(On having an “aha” moment when hiring Kenny Payne)
“I don’t know if there was one moment. You know, I think it was probably every conversation that I had about Kenny, including our conversation. I joked with him that I’m still looking for person to say a bad thing about Kenny Payne. I’ve never had any interactions with Kenny until I talked to him earlier this week, and so I didn’t know what to expect. So, as I was doing my my homework, my due diligence, like I said earlier, I was literally blown away by the respect this man commands, just in life in general, but in the basketball circles, so there wasn’t that transformative ‘aha’ this is the guy, it was just little, by little, by little, and it just started to build and build and build. Obviously, when we had our conversation, it was really clear that we want what’s best for this university, that’s what I needed to hear from him and I heard it very, very quickly, so once I heard that, I knew he was he was the right person for the job.”
(On hiring a coach that the University of Louisville and the fan base wanted)
“I think it means we found the right basketball coach. That’s it. I truly believe that. I made a comment, I think at the beginning of the week, Selection Sunday, a few folks on Twitter took a hold of, and I want to make sure people understand the point of that was really pointing the finger at leadership, including myself, within this university, that if we make the right decisions for this university, this is one of the best places on earth. We have to remember that. I am in an interesting situation, right? This is a huge hire, and people are going to look at this as far as how does this affect the opportunity for me to be here permanently. I reminded myself every day that I’m not going to make a decision based on what’s best for me, I’m going to make a decision based on what’s best for the university and I think that’s pretty clear that’s what happened.”
(On if the meeting between Kenny Payne and Denny Crum solidified the decision)
“I don’t want to say that moment solidified it, because I think there was so many other moments before that. Like I said, there wasn’t thi, ‘Oh my gosh, we nailed it,’ moment. That moment obviously helped. Listening to him up here helped. We know that this is the right man for the job, and I didn’t need to see him hug Denny Crum to create that affirmation. This was like I said, as you talk to people around the country, and I can’t stress that enough, I will say it again and again and again; I intentionally talked to people that didn’t have any stake in who we hired as a head coach, because I wanted to make sure that I was getting objective opinions about who could be successful in this job, and it was overwhelming from folks that didn’t have a dog in this fight that Kenny Payne was the right person for this job.”
(On the conversation with the current players on the coaching search)
“I tried to have those conversations prior to end of the season. They’ll tell you; I didn’t really pull them together at the end of the year. I think, to be honest with you, we were all relieved for the conclusion of this season. I think we were all ready to turn the page. I was extremely proud of the way this group went out in Brooklyn and I just wanted them to have a few days, the coaching staff, staff members to have some time to just decompress because these last two months, they haven’t been easy. They haven’t been easy for these guys. It hasn’t been easy for the basketball staff. It hasn’t been easy for anybody in this room. So, I really wanted to just be hands-off to be honest with you and say ‘hey, you guys do your thing and then when the time’s right, we’ll have those conversations.’”
(On the interest in this job across the country)
“I talked to some of the best basketball coaches in the country, and that’s it. I thought that I would, and I did. For me, it wasn’t about who is the best basketball coach. Everybody I talked to had proven that they were a very good basketball coach. You didn’t have a conversation for a job at the University of Louisville unless you had proved that you could coach basketball. This job is so much bigger than that so, a lot of it was through the conversations that I had before I talked to Kenny, but then as Kenny and I sat down earlier this week; it was clear pretty quickly that this is the right man for the job. He was up here before and if you weren’t convinced then, I’m presuming you were when he sat down.”
(On if the opportunity to create a healing opportunity in the context of racial issues in the community weighed into the decision)
“I think that opportunity was there. I’m aware of everything that’s transpired, and I think, for me, when it comes to making decisions relative to what represents this university, the critical piece of it for me is making sure that we find the right candidate. And then from there, if they happen to be black or brown or whatever color it may be, and I’m comfortable making that decision knowing that we brought the very best to the table and that’s what we did here.”
(On the pressure from people to hire Kenny Payne)
“I think you guys would be surprised how many people said hire Kenny Payne. There wasn’t that many that put pressure on me and that said hire Kenny Payne. They talked to me about the concerns and the issues they’ve had in years past and, to a person, they framed it the manner that if Kenny Payne could really help just with some of those wounds, then hire him. As far as conversations of, ‘hey, you have to go hire Kenny Payne,’ I’m not sure I heard that one time and that goes to anybody that I talked to whether it was university leadership. I just I never heard it. I think that narrative that there was pressure to hire Kenny Payne, I never felt it. What I felt was support to hire the right person. Like I said, I think it’s pretty clear that we got that done today.”
Latest posts by Mark Blankenbaker (see all)
- VIDEO: Kenny Payne Introduces Milt Wagner - May 24, 2022
- Payne Adds Milt Wagner to UofL Basketball Staff - May 24, 2022
- Numerous Football Game Day Improvements to be Unveiled at Cardinal Stadium - May 23, 2022