Louisville is in the midst of the worst men’s basketball season any of us have ever lived through. The Cardinals are 2-15 overall, 0-6 in the ACC, and No. 339 in the NET Rankings. That places the program that 10 years ago was a couple of months away from winning its third national championship two spots behind Alabama A&M, a 3-11 team out of the SWAC.
As a result of all this, one question has been bouncing around the Derby City since before the calendar even flipped to 2023: Could Kenny Payne’s first season as the U of L head coach be Kenny Payne’s only season as the U of L head coach?
Based on the comments of Cardinal athletic director Josh Heird on Friday, the answer to that question would seem to be a resounding “no.”
“As far as supporting Kenny, it’s extremely important to me,” Heird told the media following a U of L Athletics Association Board of Directors meeting. “And until he does something that says, hey, I don’t think he should be our basketball coach, I’m going to support him 110%. But I can promise you he hasn’t done one thing that has shown me that he shouldn’t be our basketball coach.”
Having said that, Heird did acknowledge that having two wins in mid-January is not something anyone associated with Cardinal basketball should be forced to get used to.
“Now, does that mean that any of us are satisfied with two wins? Absolutely not. It’s extremely frustrating. I know, it’s frustrating to Kenny, it’s frustrating to staff, and it’s frustrating to the student athletes.
“I can promise you, I don’t go home satisfied with ‘we’re getting better,’ and Kenny even more so than me. We don’t want to go home and say ‘we’re getting better, we’re making progress.’ So we understand the expectations in this program, and the expectation is to win a lot of basketball games and compete at an extremely high level. For me, it’s the same as it is for any program here in the athletic department. That is about progress. That is about where we are now to where we want to go.”
As for how a program of this stature could possibly exist as the worst (by a wide margin at the moment) power six conference team in all of college basketball, Heird said that while fans may not want to hear the excuses, there are valid ones out there.
“If you take a step back, and this is really hard to do — it’s really hard for fans to do, it’s really hard for me to do, it’s really hard for Kenny to do — and say, ‘Hey, what were we dealing with when we made that coaching transition?’ Look at who was on this team look and the track record they had previously and look who is not on that team now.
And I don’t want to sit here and be a broken record and say, ‘Oh, you know, the IARP was a cloud,’ But it was. That’s a fact. A lot of people look at the transfer portal and say we should have gotten some high-level recruits. Well, most of your high-level kids in the portal want to compete for a championship. They want to go to the NCAA tournament. And everybody here, everybody here thought, best-case scenario, was we got a one-year postseason ban. So, imagine being in Kenny’s shoes and saying to a high-level transfer, ‘You have one year of eligibility left, come play for me.’ First question. Do I get to play in the NCAA Tournament? Everybody’s thinking, ‘No,’ that there’s going to be a postseason ban here. And right away, Louisville gets scratched off the list. Now all of that’s behind us. And so now we’re focused on the future focused on getting everything around this program headed in the right direction without anything holding us back. We’ve got that opportunity we have to take advantage of now. That’s not lost on me, the expectations around this program.”
The Cards will shoot for their first conference win Saturday afternoon against reigning national runner-up North Carolina.