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OPINION: The Nightmare at Louisville is Over...For Now

Updated: Mar 25

Cover Image Courtesy Louisville Athletics

The period of March 18th, 2022 to March 13th, 2024 will be remembered as the darkest in the history of Louisville Basketball. These dates marked the beginning and the end of the Kenny Payne Era. Unfortunately, it is an era that Cards fans, like myself, would prefer to forget. Two years ago on March 18th, KP began his Louisville with a press conference, where he vowed to restore the basketball program and appeal to Card Nation for their support throughout the process.

Two years later, Cards fans find that instead of showing gratitude for the chance to return to his alma mater, Kenny Payne has chosen to play the victim and shift blame onto the fanbase for his failures at Louisville. Revisiting his initial promises from the press conference, it is apparent that there were several commitments that were not fulfilled. Despite his plea for Card Nation's assistance, it was ultimately his actions that led to the alienation of the fanbase, not the other way around.

KP also pledged to introduce a fast-paced and exhilarating style of play, yet this vision failed to materialize on the court. The team's performance often resembled that of elementary school children learning how to dribble, resulting in lackluster and unattractive basketball. With that being said, let's dive into Kenny Payne's brief tenure as the Head Coach of Louisville Basketball that spanned just two seasons.

Kenny Payne’s Embarrassing First Season:

The Cards had a dismal 2022-23 season, finishing with a 4-28 overall record and a 2-14 record in the ACC. This marked the beginning of the downward spiral for Louisville Basketball under Kenny Payne's leadership. The season started off on a rough note with an 0-9 record, and the team did not secure their first win until mid-December. It was, undoubtedly, the worst season in the program's history, with the lowest win total since 1941-42 when Louisville went 7-10 under coach John Heldman.

The season did have one silver lining to it; when Louisville defeated Clemson at home on Feb 18, the Cards also honored the 2013 National Championship squad. However, aside from that moment, the season was considered a national embarrassment for the program. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come for Louisville Basketball under Kenny Payne, as the train wreck continued into his second and final season.

The Final Season Under Kenny Payne:

Kenny Payne made history by achieving something no other coach at Louisville had done before – back-to-back seasons with 20 or more losses. This unprecedented streak never occurred in Louisville's 110 years of existence until the team was under Payne's leadership. While some may argue that Payne inherited a challenging situation in his first season, the blame for the team's lack of success in the 2023-24 season falls squarely on his shoulders. Payne was responsible for constructing the roster, which included former five-star recruits like BHH and Dennis Evans, along with talented players like Skyy Clark. Despite the roster's potential, the team failed to meet the expectations of Louisville fans.

Beyond the on-court struggles, the off-court issues that plagued the team during this season were equally concerning. From players refusing to play over trivial matters to the questionable behavior of assistant coaches, the team became a national laughing stock in college basketball. Payne's post-game comments added to the team's woes, further highlighting the dysfunction surrounding the program. The season was a nightmare for Louisville fans, with each loss adding to the disappointment and frustration.

Despite the brevity of Payne's tenure, lasting only two seasons, the era felt much longer due to the tumultuous nature of his leadership. AD Josh Heird's decision to move on from Payne was ultimately the right move for the program.

Potential Candidates:

As I'm writing this out on March 14th, 2024 I have had plenty of time reflecting on these past couple of seasons and have heard all the rumors about potential candidates and just wanna give my thoughts on each person and give my thoughts on who I want. 

Scott Drew (Current HC of Baylor): If I'm Josh Heird, I am doing everything I can to pull Scott Drew out of Waco and bring him to Louisville. Scott Drew is the definition of a home run hire. This could be the hire of the decade if Louisville can pull this off. Not only would Drew have this program back to national prominence, he would recruit his butt off both in the high school ranks and the transfer portal. He would play a fun style of basketball, and we wouldn’t have to worry about anything X’s and O’s wise because Drew is great at that. Throw his National Championship onto the resume as well, and Scott Drew is by far my first call.

Mick Cronin (Current HC of UCLA): Mick Cronin, a Louisville assistant from 2001-2003, would be the complete opposite of Scott Drew. Although Cronin has won a lot of games and did make a final four recently, he would be my last call period. The style that Cronin likes to play is something I don’t want to see at Louisville. We’ve already suffered enough watching ugly basketball under Kenny Payne these past two seasons. Additionally, Cronin’s personality does not fit Louisville Basketball at all. 

Dusty May (Current HC of FAU): Dusty May is a very intriguing candidate for me. Although he made a final four last season and managed to bring back guys like Johnell Davis, who had opportunities to go elsewhere, I’m not entirely sure he would be a good fit. There’s clearly something about him that he was able to bring the majority of his team back, and I don't think he's a bad coach at all; I personally just don't see his style working at Louisville. That being said, I'd much rather see him here than Mick Cronin.

Brad Underwood/Jerome Tang (HCs of Illinois and Kansas, respectively): These are two names I haven’t seen mentioned much, but names I would love to see here at Louisville. Both of these guys I think would flourish here in Louisville, and there’s two reasons why. First, both of 'em can flat out recruit and have zero issues in getting the best guys out of high school and in the portal. Second, Tang’s personality would fit Louisville like a glove, and Underwood's hard coaching style is something Louisville is used to having. If Scott Drew is off the table, I would love to see Louisville give both Tang and Underwood a call.

Final Thoughts:

No matter what, this is the most important hire in the program's history, and we HAVE to get this one right. The struggle of being a Louisville fan recently has been exponentially hard. Growing up I used to love wearing my Louisville gear in public and loved throwing the L up during game days. Now though, I feel sort of embarrassed to wear Louisville stuff in public or even during podcasts. It's really sad to have to say that.

The absolute hardest part of being a Louisville fan right now is knowing our biggest rival 75 miles to the South is without a doubt the most fun team to watch this season. I want us to be good again. I want us to fight for ACC titles with UNC and Duke. I want us to be in constant contention for a national championship. I want to be happy watching Louisville Basketball again like I did growing up. We’ve got to get this program back on track. Whether or not non-Cards fans agree, College Basketball is better when teams like Louisville are good. 

This offseason is going to determine the future of Louisville Basketball. I'm man enough to admit that I’m a nervous wreck about this hire and I pray we make a good decision for our future. That being said I will always be a Louisville fan no matter how good or bad we are. Louisville First, Cards Forever!

Cover image via @AlexLinton_ on Twitter


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