By Carolyn Farr-Shanesy
USC Upstate University Communications
Spartanburg, S.C. – The University of South Carolina Upstate head men's basketball's Eddie Payne announced he would step down as head coach effective Oct. 3, 2017.
It is a decision that did not come easily for Payne, who's led the Spartans for 15 seasons. Over the summer, Payne had the second of two ankle replacements. The healing process has been a long and tedious one, almost three months. Still fighting numbness in his left foot and ankle, the real test came Saturday, Sept. 29 at the Spartans' first basketball practice.
"I was on my feet for four hours and the adrenaline was pumping, but I started having a lot of pain that night," Payne said. "The pain got worse through the weekend."
Payne said he started to think long and hard about coaching and what another year would do to his ankle and even his long-term mobility. He also started to think about his son Luke, who is getting married, and the hope of one day being a grandfather.
"It was a hard decision," Payne said. "I've been doing this 43 years, I still have two years left on my contract and I'm close to 500 wins. It's hard to just stop."
The only current NCAA Division I coach to have coached at all five levels of college basketball, Payne has compiled a 484-474 career record, including a 227-241 mark at USC Upstate.
Payne said that he never said anything to anyone until Sunday evening when he sat down with his wife Ann.
"I told her that I just didn't think I could do this," he said. "Ann just wanted to know we were doing what was right for me physically."
Julio Freire, who joined USC Upstate in July as athletics director and vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, said Payne was one of the first people he met at the University, but one that he had talked to many other coaches about before his interview.
"For all student-athletes there comes a time for them to stop bouncing a ball, and the same is true of coaches, but this is not how Eddie would have scripted it," Freire said. "He is to be commended for the tremendous impact he has made on hundreds of young men, coupled with the unbelievable success while at the University of South Carolina Upstate and throughout his 43-year career."
Payne met with his team Tuesday afternoon to tell them about his decision.
"The most important thing you have in team sports is the relationships with the kids… you meet their parents, their coaches, their brothers and sisters, and you get to know their families. It's not an easy conversation."
Pair that conversation with the competitiveness of basketball.
"In basketball there's no gray area," he said. "You compete, you lay it all out there and you either win or you lose. I'll miss the kids and the relationships. I won't miss the referees."
University officials are discussing a role that would keep Payne associated with Spartans Athletics and the University, once he steps away from his duties as a coach.
Dr. Brendan Kelly, USC Upstate's chancellor, said he was surprised by Payne's decision, but he's excited about what he's built and the fact that he still wants to make a difference at the University.
"I've worked with a ton of coaches and I love what coaches bring to a university," Kelly said. "They are some of the best teachers around and the students they teach are so vested in them and their relationship with them. It's pretty extraordinary, and Eddie is a perfect example of that – he's passionate, he's open and friendly, and people wanted to engage him and he wanted to engage them. He's a great ambassador for this University."
Kyle Perry, who has worked as an assistant coach under Payne for the last eight years, will serve as the interim head coach.
Career milestones for Payne while at USC Upstate:
- Back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
- Led USC Upstate during the transition to Division I era with their first game at Utah on Nov. 9, 2007.
- Oversight of the $4 million renovation of the Hodge Center. The renovation was made possible through a gift from donor Delores "Dodie" Anderson '81.
- In 2011-12, Payne turned in arguably the best coaching performance in the country when he orchestrated one of the most successful seasons in school history. Payne guided the Spartans to a 21-13 overall record and the top turn-around in the NCAA after leading the program to 16 more wins than the season before.
- Recognized as the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year in 2012, in addition to being named the Hugh Durham National Mid-Major Coach of the Year.
- During the 2014-15 season, Ty Greene was selected as the Lou Henson National Mid-Major Player of the Year
- 13 players have signed contracts to play overseas, including his son, Luke Payne, who graduated from USC Upstate in 2008.
- Ty Greene '15 was also drafted by the Delaware 87ers in the third round of the 2015 NBA G-League Draft.
- Torrey Craig '14 became the second player in school history to sign an NBA contract, inking a two-way deal with the Denver Nuggets in July 2017.
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