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Women’s basketball coach JR Payne gets new 5-year deal with CU Buffs

BOULDER,CO: March 14:Head Coach, JR Payne, during the University of Colorado practice for the NCAA tournament on March 14, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER,CO: March 14:Head Coach, JR Payne, during the University of Colorado practice for the NCAA tournament on March 14, 2023.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

After leading the Colorado women’s basketball team to its first Sweet 16 in 20 years, head coach JR Payne has a new contract and a raise.

On Thursday, CU announced it has signed Payne to a new five-year contract that extends through the 2027-28 season. The new deal replaces the contract extension she signed in June of 2021. That deal ran through the 2025-26 season at an annual salary of $417,500.

CU did not announce contract details, but a BuffZone source said Payne’s new salary is more than $700,000 annually.

“It’s awesome and I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Payne told BuffZone about getting a new contract. “We love it here and our family’s happy. It’s great. … We’re thrilled to be here.”

Originally introduced as CU’s head coach on March 28, 2016, Payne, 45, has posted a 119-93 record in her seven seasons with the Buffs, while leading them to the NCAA Tournament twice and the WNIT twice.

Already the second-longest tenured head coach in program history, Payne’s 119 wins rank second to Ceal Barry (427-242 in 22 seasons).

“JR Payne has done an outstanding job with our basketball program,” CU athletic director Rick George said in a press release. “I have a lot of confidence in her ability to lead and create an outstanding culture in her program and I’m excited that we have extended her contract. After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season and making a run to the Sweet 16, I felt that this was the right time to make this change to her contract. I look forward to the program continuing its upward trajectory moving forward.”

Payne took over a program that went just 7-23 the year before she was hired. After orchestrating turnarounds at Southern Utah and Santa Clara, Payne has done the same at CU.

She led the Buffs to the third round of the WNIT in her first year, but they were just 44-52 in her first three years combined. They were last in the Pac-12 in 2018-19.

Since then, the program has continued to elevate.

In 2019-20, the Buffs went 16-14, placed 10th in the Pac-12 and were anticipating a bid to the WNIT before the postseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year later, in the pandemic-shorted 2020-21 campaign, the Buffs went 12-11, finished sixth in the Pac-12 – the program’s best finish in eight years – and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT.

Last year, CU went 22-9, placed fifth in the conference and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.

This year, the Buffs got even better, going 25-9 and making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since a four-year run from 2001-04. CU was third place in the Pac-12, its best conference finish since 2004, and reached the Pac-12 semifinals for a second consecutive season.

The Buffs landed a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament and beat Middle Tennessee in the first round for the program’s first tourney win in 20 years. Then, the Buffs upset third-seeded Duke to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.

The run ended with an 87-77 loss to second-seeded Iowa on Friday in Seattle. The Buffs were within four points in the final 80 seconds before the Hawkeyes sealed the game at the free throw line.

CU finished the regular season ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25, the first time since 2012-13 that the Buffs were ranked in the final poll of the regular season.

Looking ahead, Payne and the Buffs aren’t expecting a drop-off from this year’s success.

Senior leaders Quay Miller and Jaylyn Sherrod, who were both first-team All-Pac-12, could return for an extra season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither went through senior day festivities last month and if both return, the Buffs could have almost the entire core of this year’s team back.

Payne and her staff also signed a recruiting class of five freshmen, highlighted by two ESPN Top-100 prospects, Kennedy Sanders (No. 75) and Ruthie Loomis-Goltl (No. 78). CU could potentially be active in the transfer portal, as well.

Payne’s new contract signals CU’s commitment to continue success in women’s basketball.

“I’m so thankful to Rick George and our administration for their support and belief in our staff,” Payne said in a press release. “We have poured our heart and soul into building this program into something special and we’re so thankful for the opportunity to continue to push ourselves to national prominence. We love Colorado and know that we will continue to do everything we can to make all of Buff Nation proud! We’re ready to keep doing big things in Boulder!”

Payne had the lowest base salary among Pac-12 head coaches this past season, but now ranks around the middle of the conference.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the conference. With Stanford being a private school, VanDerveer’s contract details are unknown, but she was north of $2 million on a 2016 tax filing, according to reports.

USC is also a private school that doesn’t make coaching salaries public, but Trojans’ head coach Lindsay Gottlieb is likely near the top of the list. Arizona’s Adia Barnes, Oregon’s Kelly Graves and Oregon State’s Scott Rueck all have average annual salaries around the $1.1 million range.