Ex-L’ville coach Payne rejoins Calipari with Hogs
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After their successful stint together at Kentucky, new Arkansas coach John Calipari has reunited with Kenny Payne, the former Louisville head coach.

Payne, who was fired by Louisville last month, will serve as associate head coach on Calipari’s staff in Fayetteville, it was announced Thursday.

From 2010 to 2020, Payne was an assistant and associate head coach during Calipari’s most successful years at Kentucky. Payne was noted for his work with some of the notable big men who anchored the program, including NBA All-Stars Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Bam Adebayo.

With Payne on staff, Calipari won his lone national championship in 2012 and participated in a streak of four Final Four appearances in five seasons. Former players would sometimes return to Lexington during the NBA offseason to work with Payne, who left Kentucky in 2020 for a role as an assistant with the New York Knicks.

Calipari had his worst years after Payne left the program, including a 9-16 season in 2020-21. The Wildcats also had two first-round losses in the NCAA tournament over three seasons.

In 2022, Payne left the Knicks for Louisville, where he finished 12-52 and struggled to find momentum over two seasons. While the detractors grew louder in Payne’s second season — he won a national title with the Cardinals as a player in 1986 — Calipari remained supportive.

“He’s got a really young team,” Calipari said about Payne at the Champions Classic in November. “And you’ve got to let him go and do what he does. The players love him because they play for him. They never let go of the rope. And I’m watching and I feel for him. Shoot, we went through it a couple of years ago. The people get mean and nasty. They do. And that’s what you have to deal with in this profession. … My guess is he’ll have this program — within a year — where everybody wants it. It’s just that the growing pains are miserable. We went through it.”

Payne returns to Calipari’s staff as both coaches search for a new start in Fayetteville. Calipari surprised many when he picked the Razorbacks, which haven’t won a national title since 1994, just days after he and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart discussed moving forward in a series of media appearances.

Kentucky has since hired former BYU coach Mark Pope, who won a national title at Kentucky in 1996.

After former Arkansas players entered the transfer portal, Calipari has since received a commitment from Zvonimir Ivisic, the 7-footer who played for him at Kentucky. And every key member of his nationally ranked recruiting class at Kentucky has decommitted since his departure, opening the door to more top talent possibly following him to Fayetteville.

At Arkansas, Calipari will reportedly have the NIL assistance of deep-pocketed boosters, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Tyson Foods chief financial officer John Tyson and the Walton family, which owns Walmart.

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