Steve Payne named Golden Eagle men's basketball head coach
Mar 23, 2011
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Steve Payne, the associate head coach
of the Tennessee Tech men’s basketball program who has served
on the staff for the past nine years, was named Wednesday morning
as Golden Eagle head coach.
Payne, 42, will take over from Mike Sutton, who announced his
retirement from the position. Both announcements came in a joint
press conference in the Eblen Center.
“I’m obviously excited about this
opportunity,” Payne said. “I’m thankful to coach
Sutton for bringing me here to Tennessee Tech, and to President
Bell and Mark Wilson for this opportunity.
“I also want to thank all the people involved in Tennessee
Tech athletics, from the players to the staff, for the support
they’ve shown. I’m extremely excited for all of them to
see the future of Tennessee Tech basketball.”
Director of Athletics Mark Wilson introduced Payne as
Tech’s 12th men’s basketball head coach.
“Steve Payne has been a tremendous part of the success of
Golden Eagle basketball over the last nine years,” Wilson
said. “He has been extremely loyal to coach Sutton, the
basketball program and the university. He has taken on whatever
leadership role we’ve asked of him and had success in those
“Steve Payne is the right coach to take the foundation that
has been laid and build upon it to propel Golden Eagle basketball
to greater heights,” Wilson added. “We believe Steve
will be a very popular choice with our fan base and he has been
recognized nationally as an up-and-coming young coach.
“This team has a strong nucleus returning and we don’t
think they will skip a beat in the transition between the
leadership of coach Sutton and the leadership of coach
Payne,” Wilson said.
Payne came to Tech in 2002 as assistant coach under Sutton, and
has been the top assistant on the staff for nine years, rising to
the post of associate head coach.
“I want to thank coach Sutton for taking the chances on a
junior college coach from Texas,” Payne said. “I have
always been proud to represent Tennessee Tech and I am even more so
today. When I came here, my goal was to be a Division I coach.
After being here, that goal changed. I wanted to be the coach of
Tennessee Tech University.
“Outside of the day I was saved, my marriage and the birth
of my children, this is the biggest, most exciting day of my
life,” Payne added. “I am excited, honored and humbled
to be Tennessee Tech’s head coach. It is truly a dream come
Payne came to Tech as assistant coach, but found himself vaulted
into a much more demanding role when Sutton was stricken in 2005
with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, sidelining Sutton for the early
portion of that year.
With Payne handling the day-to-day operations of the program, the
Golden Eagles raced out to an 8-2 start with losses at Dayton and
Cincinnati. Payne continued to handle a major portion of the
coaching duties for the balance of the year, helping to lead Tech
to an 18-11 record and the semifinals of the OVC Tournament.
During the past year, Payne headed the Golden Eagles on two Ohio
Valley Conference road trips in Sutton’s absence, and guided
the team to three wins in four games.
In his nine years, Payne has helped Tech post 149 wins and two of
the program’s five 20-win seasons, hitting that mark in
2002-03 and again this past winter.
Following the 2005-06 season, Payne was recognized for the role he
played in Tech’s success while Sutton began his recovery. He
was named OVC Coach of the Year by CollegeInsider.com, and was
listed as one of 15 finalists for the Hugh Durham Award honoring
the mid-major Coach of the Year. CBSsportsline.com also named him
OVC Coach of the Year.
Payne began his career at Tech after serving as the head coach at
Frank Phillips Junior College in Borger, Texas. Prior to taking the
reins at Frank Phillips JC, Payne was associate head coach for four
years at Georgetown (Ky.) College. During his time at Georgetown,
the Tigers compiled a 128-22 record, won three conference titles in
four years, and won the NAIA national title in 1997-98. The team
finished second at the NAIA National Tournament in 1999-00, and
advanced to the Sweet 16 two other years.
Payne also served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator
at Northwestern State (La.) University where he helped NSU to its
best conference finish in a decade. Before NSU, he was an assistant
coach at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where he was
recruiting coordinator and helped lead the team to back-to-back
“When I came here nine years ago, I fell in love with this
community, this university and the people in athletics,”
Payne said. “My family and I love it here, and I’m
looking forward to my time here in this new role as head coach.
“Tennessee Tech and this community mean so much to me. My
family and I have developed tremendous ties to this
community,” he said. “It is a privilege to raise my
family in one of the finest towns in America. It has for a
long time felt like home.”
While his title changes, Payne sees the program going through a
“I’ve always taken ownership of this program.
It’s different suggesting to the head coach what you think is
best for the program, and being the one with the final say, but I
feel I’m prepared for this. I’ve done this before.
“We have great players, a great staff, and great
administration, and I’m looking forward to continuing the
upward trend of men’s basketball at Tennessee
Payne said he was greatly influenced by Sutton during the past
“Spending nine years around coach Sutton will be a huge
benefit,” Payne said. “He’s a very knowledgeable
coach. We’ve been through a lot and I’m ready to take
the next challenge. I want to face what’s ahead of us.
“I appreciate and will always owe a debt of gratitude to
Mike Sutton for bringing me here,” Payne said. “The
lessons I’ve learned from him over the last nine years cannot
be measured. He has taught me so many things, but the main thing is
that a basketball program should be about relationships
first. The relationships we have with each other, and with
our community, are what make a basketball program special.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be representing a
university community and a man in coach Sutton who has handled a
very tough situation with such class and poise. I will do my very
best to make him and our entire Tech family proud.”
Among the challenges Payne faces is continuing to develop pride in
the Golden Eagle program.
“We’ve had some great players in the last nine
years,” Payne said. “Not only the past nine years, but
throughout the history of this program. I’ve seen firsthand
that there’s a lot of pride out there in Tennessee Tech
basketball, and I’m looking forward to giving our fans and
players even more reasons to be proud.”
Recruiting and working with the current players is Payne’s
top priority in the coming weeks.
“We’ll continue our recruiting, but the most important
people are the guys who are in our program right now,” Payne
said. “They’re the foundation of our team next year. We
have to make sure that that they’re getting stronger, getting
Getting out into the community will be an important part of
“I want to sell our program. I want our fans to be as
passionate about our team and our school as I am. If we can do
that, we’ll be okay. I want people to invest in this program.
We have everything in place to be successful and we’re
excited about moving forward.”
Photos from the press conference (photos by Dean Carothers and