Clipboard Conversations: Steve Payne, new Tennessee Tech head coach

18 May

After nine years as an assistant, Steve Payne takes over the head coaching position at Tennessee Tech.

By Justin Young
National Hoops Report

Steve Payne has been on the Tennessee Tech sidelines for the last nine years as an assistant coach. It was announced that he would assume the head coaching position next season after Mike Sutton retired at the end of the year.

The National Hoops Report caught up with the new head man to talk about his team, taking over a program, not having to play Kenneth Faried any longer and much more.

NATIONAL HOOPS REPORT: How is this transition going from assistant coach to head coach at Tennessee Tech?

STEVE PAYNE: “Mike was really good in a lot of ways because he allowed a lot of people ownership and I don’t know if I take any more ownership than I did before. Now everything, philosophy wise, just moves one chair over. It stops with me now. Mike always had the final say in what we did. Now it slides over to me. That’s the only difference. Its been a comfortable move because the people at Tennessee Tech make it comfortable. The transition worked out as well as it possibly could because coach Sutton is doing everything he can do to help make us successful. That was very important for me. It couldn’t have been smoother than what it has been.”

NHR: So will coach Sutton still be involved with the Tennessee Tech program as much as he can?

SP: “Honestly, I think he’ll do whatever we ask him to do. He’s actually been out of town a lot but we talk a lot. He’s on campus whenever he can be. He’ll have his own stuff to do when he’s on campus but there is no question that he’ll be behind us 100 percent. He’ll offer his help whenever he would like. At the same time, he kind wants to let us be. He was the head coach here for nine years. I’ve been here with him that entire time. I think he knows he can call me with anything. I think I’ll be doing pretty much everything the same way.”

NHR: I would have to think that the continuity is only going to help. Oftentimes we see guys come into new jobs and it is a complete sea change with the program. For your team, do your guys just approach this change as they would any other year by prepping like they always have?

SP: “I think from our player’s point of view it is very much the same as it always have been. They love coach (Sutton). We are family here. That’s what we preach. They care about him and he cares about them. We’ll keep doing the things he taught them to allow them to be successful. It goes both ways. I don’t think there is a big upheaval in our players’ lives. That’s good. We had a good spring and had good workouts and the guys have good grades. There hasn’t been anything to slow things down. That’s what I’ve come to expect from them.”

NHR: Let’s talk about your. You have the core of your team back. A guy named Kenneth Faried is gone from the league. There are a lot of signs pointing to you guys having similar, if not better, success this year in the Ohio Valley Conference next year. What are the realistic expectations for your squad next season?

SP: “I except us to compete this year. I don’t know if we are the best team in the league but I don’t think we are that far off. I think we are certainly capable of competing with anyone in our league. I don’t think we will wow anyone with our talent night in and night out if we don’t play hard, play smart and play together. But I think we will do the things late in the year that will prove that we are pretty good. It all depends if we improve during the summer and in the fall and into the next stages into the season, I think when the season comes to an end we will be right there. We’re not the most athletic bunch but we have athletes in the group. We’re not the best shooting bunch but we have guys that can shoot it. We have some size. The best thing we can do is develop some talent on the floor and get people to buy into our defensive stuff. If we continue to does those things next year we’ll be right there. I like our team. We’ll be in the hunt.”

NHR: Now that you are the head coach, your responsibilities change. How involved will you be in recruiting compared to your previous position?

SP: “Probably more. You sometimes think, ‘Oh, head coaches don’t go out.’ But if you look at guys that are successful, they are very involved in recruiting. You have to be involved in every aspect. I have some great staff members that are good young guys that know how to evaluate and recruit. They’ll do a great job. Its my job to help them out. We have to get the right kind of people. I don’t ever want to be the type of guy that complains about the players that he has in January and February when I’m the guy that is responsible for bringing them here.”

NHR: This is the third year where coaches can’t go out to recruit and evaluate in April to the weekend grassroots events. How does that play out at your level?

SP: “I don’t like it at all. I think April is more valuable to us than July, especially from my standpoint. We are so focused on our season so when April comes around, let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of coaches that are hanging out with their players on Saturday or Sunday with their players. So we miss the opportunity to evaluate a mass number of kids and for our level guys, it is important that we evaluate who we like but who we can get. By taking away April, we’ve delayed that to July now.”

NHR: I’m asking this to everyone that participates in the Clipboard Conversations and I’m interested in hearing from different perspectives. For you, what is the DNA of a true competitor?

SP: “I never want to see a guy say, ‘I’m not a practice player.’ I want guys that are coachable. I want guys that want to get better every single day. Guys that are only worried about themselves and not worried about what we are doing as a team, I’m not interested in that guy. I don’t want to be around that guy. If he’s going to go around kicking and screaming, then I don’t want to be around you. That’s not being a competitor, that’s being a baby. I want guys that want to prepare everyday. I want a guy that gets better every day on their own, in practice and take care of their academics. It has to be rolled up in one big package for a guy to be a true competitor. It has to be a guy that brings that everyday and see the big picture. That somebody has to understand why you have to be on time, why you have to be accountable, why you have be where you say you are going to be.”

NHR: Toughest place to play in the OVC – where is it?

SP: “I hope it is Tennessee Tech. Honestly, there are a lot of good places. All of them are tough and hard places to play. The ones that are toughest are the ones that have the best teams. Morehead State has been a bear for us. They have a great team. Eastern Kentucky, at different times. Murray State has always been tough. Austin Peay has been tough. Tennessee State has been tough. They are all hard. Our road games are hard to win. The travel, the Thursday/Saturday format, whatever it is, if you can go .500 in your league and win your home games, you have a chance to win the conference.”

NHR: Are you going to sleep easier now that Faried is out of the conference?

SP: “Man, I’m so glad he’s gone. I was telling everyone last year that he was a lottery pick so he would get out of here. Donnie is going to be okay. He’s a good coach and he’ll do a great job with his program. They have some great players in their program. There are some other guys that I’m glad are gone but (Faried) is the best player to come through here since I’ve been here not just because of the results but how hard he plays and how hard people played around him. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t make it in the NBA and doesn’t have a spot on a roster. Someone can use that guy.”

NHR: Is he the toughest player you’ve ever had to prep for?

SP: “He’s a special player. He’s a great athlete and he loves contact. He’ll hit ya. He is smart enough to hit you and get you to foul him. I think he’ll really blossom in the NBA. I’ve never seen a guy like him in the last three years. You couldn’t prepare for him because he impacts the game at any time. He doesn’t even have to have the ball in his hands. You can’t prepare for that. He blocks shots. He’s impossible to feed the post. If you didn’t get the entry pass in right on target, he’s going to deflect it or steal it. He’s great.”

One Response to “Clipboard Conversations: Steve Payne, new Tennessee Tech head coach”

  1. Thunder May 24, 2011 at 5:21 am #

    I always look forward to basketball season at TTU. Not much else to get excited about since Ralph’s Doughnuts closed down. I am glad Steve Payne got the job, He hung around when he could have gone elsewhere to coach. I think he will succeed in his role. I believe Tech should be loaded this year with two top recruits and a redshirt freshman guard to jump into the mix. I would be surprised if they don’t finish in the top 3.

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