Buffs’ new coach
A look at new Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne:
Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
Alma mater: St. Mary’s (Calif.) College, 1999
Playing career highlights: Played point guard. … Helped St. Mary’s to the 1999 NCAA Tournament. … Earned first-team All-West Coast Conference honors. … Twice named to the WCC all-tournament team.
Santa Clara (head coach), 2014-16 (2 seasons)
Southern Utah (head coach), 2009-14 (5 seasons)
Santa Clara (assistant), 2008-09 (1 season)
Boise State (assistant), 2005-08 (3 seasons)
Gonzaga (assistant, 2000-05 (5 seasons)
Head coaching record
2015-16 Santa Clara 23-9*
2014-15 Santa Clara 11-18
2013-14 Southern Utah 23-10*
2012-13 Southern Utah 15-16
2011-12 Southern Utah 6-23
2010-11 Southern Utah 16-14
2009-10 Southern Utah 7-23
* WNIT appearance
It would be easy to look at Colorado’s 7-23 record in women’s basketball this season and think the Buffaloes have a long way to go to compete in the Pac-12 Conference.
JR Payne doesn’t see the road being so long, however.
“Oh, there’s always pieces that you can work with,” she said. “I think we have a lot of potential in that locker room. It’s going to be a process, but we’re excited for it.”
The process is now underway, after CU announced Payne as its new head coach on Monday afternoon. After two seasons at Santa Clara, Payne becomes the eighth head coach in CU history, replacing Linda Lappe, who was fired on March 7 after six seasons.
Payne’s contract has not yet been finalized, but it is a five-year deal that will pay her $1,675,000 in base and supplemental salary. She will make $300,000 in the first year, $325,000 in the second year and $350,000 in each of the last three years. There are also incentives written into the deal.
CU, which will pay $930,566 over the next three years to buy out the final three years of Lappe’s deal, will also pay Santa Clara $250,000 to buy out the remainder of Payne’s deal with the Broncos. That will be paid immediately. CU also spent $40,000 on the search firm it used to find Payne.
That’s a lot of money to invest in the women’s basketball coaching position, but it is money that athletic director Rick George believes is well spent to get Payne in Boulder.
“I wasn’t looking for the biggest name out there; I’m looking for the best coach,” said George, who first met with Payne in Las Vegas three weeks ago, just a couple of days after parting ways with Lappe. “And I feel like we got the best coach and the best mentor and the best leader for these student-athletes. I’m really excited about what she brings.”
Payne, 38, brings a career record of 101-113 in seven seasons at Southern Utah and Santa Clara. That record is misleading, however, in that in both stops she took over losing programs and, over time, made them winners.
In her fifth and final season at Southern Utah, in 2013-14, she led the Thunderbirds to a school-record 23 wins and their first-ever postseason appearance (Women’s NIT). This past season at Santa Clara, she led the Broncos to a 23-9 mark and a trip to the WNIT that ended a 10-year postseason drought.
She also brings a reputation for being a stellar recruiter and finding a way to bring out the best in her players.
“She’s the kind of coach that you want to play hard for her,” said Tasha Harris, a graduate of Skyline High School in Longmont who played at Boise State when Payne was an assistant. “You don’t want to disappoint her. You want to work hard for her and you want to make sure that you give her everything.”
Payne also comes with a built-in associate head coach, Toriano Towns, who happens to be her husband. Towns has been Payne’s associate head coach in all seven of her seasons as a head coach. Payne handles the offense, while Towns is her defensive coordinator.
Payne is working on filling out the rest of her staff, but it’s sure to be a staff that believes in her philosophy.
“I would sum it up in two words, and it’s going to be ‘blue-collar,’ ” Payne said. “We always talk about being the toughest team, being the hardest-working team and being extremely disciplined in everything that we do. To summarize, that is blue-collar, top to bottom. We believe in outworking our opponents, from a recruiting standpoint, from a scouting standpoint, and our team will follow suit.”
Payne met with the Buffs on Monday morning and spent an hour and a half with them. Several players were attendance at the afternoon press conference and said so far, so good.
“Her impressions today were really, really good, so I’m excited to see what she brings, who she brings and that type of thing,” freshman point guard Kennedy Leonard said.
With any coaching change comes the possibility of players leaving, but for now, the Buffs appear to be on board.
“For the most part, everybody is trying to give her a chance,” Leonard said. “All we know is how she is off the court right now. I think we’re patiently waiting to get on the court. I think right now we’re trying to stick together, play together and give her a chance. She deserves a chance.”
CU is giving Payne a chance to turn around a program that has been in decline the past three years. She’s used to taking over struggling programs and turning them into winners, and she’s hoping to do the same in Boulder.
“Everything that our program will be about will be about building Colorado women’s basketball into a championship program,” she said.
Payne is 0-3 as a head coach in Coors Events Center, with all three losses coming while she coached at SUU. That includes a loss to the Buffs in the 2014 WNIT second round. … Payne’s first name is Ali-Marie. Her father gave her the nickname “JR” when she was a child. … She was born in Jackson, Tenn., before moving to North Vancouver, B.C., as a toddler. … Payne played at St. Mary’s (Calif.) College for current Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. From 2000-05, she then worked as an assistant for Graves at Gonzaga. … According to SwishAppeal.com, Arizona and New Mexico also offered their head coaching jobs to Payne. … Towns left for London on a recruiting trip on Monday to visit Eleanor Jones, a 6-foot-2 center for the Leicester Riders. Jones was close to committing to the Buffs before Lappe was let go.