Steve Payne, who served as the associate head coach of the Tennessee Tech men’s basketball program from 2002-2011, is now in his fifth season as the Golden Eagle head coach.
Payne's 2014-15 squad boasted arguably the best front-court duo in the Ohio Valley Conference with the hugely productive play of center Charles Jackson and tough-nosed play of forward Dwan Caldwell. The two combined for more than 24 points and 14 rebounds per game and tallied 21 double-doubles, with 18 coming from Jackson.
Tech posted a solid 8-6 non-conference mark during the year, defeating Atlantic Sun Champion and NCAA participant North Florida twice and nearly pulling upset victories against high-profile opponents such as Tennessee, Alabama and USC. The Golden Eagles wrapped up the year at 12-18, dropping eight contests in league play by 10 or less points, including five by five points or less.
The 46-year-old coach led the Tech program back to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in 2013-14, posting a 17-16 overall record just one season after missing post season play with a 12-17 mark in an injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign. Tech fought its way to a 9-7 record in OVC play in 2013-14, grabbing the No. 5 seed after finishing fourth in a stacked East Division. Payne led the group to a first-round victory over SIUE.
The head coach orchestrated a 19-14 record in 2011-12, going 9-7 in league play and leading the Tech squad to an OVC tournament first-round win over Southeast Missouri. The Golden Eagles also made their sixth post-season appearance that year, playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Payne came to Tech in 2002 as assistant coach under Mike Sutton, and was the top assistant on the staff for nine years, rising to the post of associate head coach.
Although he filled the role as Tech's top assistant coach, Payne found himself vaulted into a much more demanding role when Sutton was sidelined for the early portion of the 2005 season after being stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
With Payne handling the day-to-day operations of the program, the Golden Eagles raced out to an 8-2 start with its only losses coming 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. 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 CBSsportsline.com. Both awards, which are usually given to head coaches, were unusual – but well-deserved – recognition for the assistant coach. Payne was also listed as one of 15 finalists for the 2006 Hugh Durham Award honoring the mid-major Coach of the Year.
During the 2010-11 season alone, Payne – who was named the 2011 Top Assistant Coach in the Ohio Valley Conference by FoxSports.com – 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 2010-11.
Payne was also recognized in July 2009 as one of the Top 25 Mid-Major assistant basketball coaches in the nation, according to CollegeInsider.com.
Prior to his arrival at Tech, Payne was the acting head coach at Frank Phillips Junior College in Borger, Texas. Coming to the Golden Eagle program in 2002, he could already boast over a decade of coaching experience.
Before he took over the reins at Frank Phillips Junior College, Payne was an associate head coach for four years under Happy Osborne at Georgetown College in Kentucky. During that time, the Tigers compiled a 128-22 record and three conference championships in four years. The Tigers won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship in 1997-98. Georgetown also finished second in the national tournament in 1999-00 and advanced to the “Sweet Sixteen” in 1998-99.
Payne also served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northwestern (La.) State University where he helped lead NSU to its best conference finish in a decade. He was also an assistant coach at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where he was recruiting coordinator and helped lead the team to back-to-back 20-win seasons. Payne was director of player development at Union, and that included the coaching of two NAIA all-Americans. He also coached at Knox Central High School in Barbourville, Ky.
He is a graduate of Russell County High School in Russell Springs, Ky., and earned his bachelor’s degree from Union College in Barbourville, Ky. in 1990.
Payne and his wife, Kelli, have three children — sons Parker and Paxton, and daughter Abigail.