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Pat Kelsey Looks Like a Solid Hire as Louisville's New Basketball Coach

By Russ Brown 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — My choice for Louisville's next basketball coach from the minute Kenny Payne was fired has been UCLA coach Mick Cronin, which I knew all along was a longshot. Not because he wouldn't appeal to the UofL administration or fan base, but because he would come with a prohibitive price tag since his buyout from the Bruins was a hefty $18 million.

The UofL athletic department is already on the hook for six-figure monthly installments for former basketball coach Chris Mack's $4.8 million payoff as a result of their parting of the ways midway through the 2022 season, and to ex-football coach Bobby Petrino, who was guaranteed $14 million after his firing at the end of the 2018 season.

And don't forget that UofL is likely to owe Payne an $8 million settlement under terms of his six-year contract.

So Cronin to Louisville, where he was an assistant coach under Rick Pitino from 2001-2003, was never going to happen.

But in College of Charleston's Pat Kelsey, who was introduced as the Cardinals' next coach at a press conference Thursday afternoon in the Kueber, UofL appears to have made a solid choice and I have no complaints. 

Kelsey's five-year contract worth $11.5 million will pay him $2.3 million per year in base salary, not counting incentives. Kenny Payne, who was fired at the end of the season, earned $3.35 million and he is owed an $8 million buyout on the remaining four years, although the University will undoubtedly try to negotiate a lesser settlement.

Payne's total compensation, counting the $7 million for his two seasons and an $8 million buyout equals $1.25 million per win for his 12 victories. 

Chris Mack, who resigned halfway through the 2022 season, was making $4.3 million per year. His severance package was $4.8 million, which is being paid in monthly installments of $133,33.33 until Jan. 31, 2025.

By taking the UofL job, Kelsey more than doubled his salary at College of Charleston, where he was earning $1.1 million — $600,000 in base salary with a supplement of $500,000 in private funds, i.e. donations from boosters.

Asked about a timetable for turning around a proud program that has endured the worst back-to-back seasons on program history and a 15-67 record over the past 2 1/2 years, Kelsey replied:

"Ready to rock! Let's go! I've worked my whole life for this. Here we go, let's go after it. If you don't plan on winning, don't put your shoes on. I'm just being honest. That's how I'm wired. It may not be the right thing to say at a press conference, and you're trying to build this thing, and they won 12 games over the last two years — but I don't know how to play any other way. We want to win ACC championships and compete to hang banners for national championships.”

“I'm so excited to get started. I tell our players all the time 'No matter what's going on — preseason, injury occurs, lose a game — fellas, the one thing you don't have to worry about is us being really, really good.' I can't wait to get started. So blessed to be the coach here. Ls up. Go Cards."

Although Kelsey, 48, hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game in four tries, he has had 11 straight winning seasons, which is difficult to do on any level, and he appears to check every box UofL Athletic Director Josh Heird was looking for, including a coach who will connect with UofL fans and the community.

Of course, the bottom line, and really the only thing that truly matters in the end is winning, and Kelsey has done plenty of that, too, although not on the Power Six level (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC). His only experience at that level has been as an assistant coach at Xavier and Wake Forest. Kelsey owns a 262-122 (.681) record over 12 seasons at so-called mid-majors Winthrop and Charleston.

He faces a difficult task trying to rebuild a UofL program that was 12-52 in two seasons under Kenny Payne, has lost 67 games in the last 2 1/2 seasons and has won just one NCAA Tournament game since 2017. But of the three former head coaches at UofL in the modern era when they were hired, he has the second-most major college victories, surpassed only by Pitino's 261. Mack had 215, all at Xavier. He is a disciple of Mack and his former assistant at Louisville, Dino Gaudio.

"Excited for @patkelsey to lead the Louisville Cardinals," Mack tweeted Thursday. "He will be amazing in every way. UofL is in great hands! Winner!!"


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