"I'm obviously excited about this opportunity," Payne said. "I'm thankful to coach Sutton for bringing me here to Tennessee Tech, and to President Bell and Mark Wilson for this opportunity. I also want to thank all the people involved in Tennessee Tech athletics, from the players to the staff, for the support they've shown. I'm extremely excited for all of them to see the future of Tennessee Tech basketball."
Director of Athletics Mark Wilson introduced Payne as Tech's 12th men's basketball head coach.
"Steve Payne has been a tremendous part of the success of Golden Eagle basketball over the last nine years," Wilson said. "He has been extremely loyal to coach Sutton, the basketball program and the university. He has taken on whatever leadership role we've asked of him and had success in those roles. Steve Payne is the right coach to take the foundation that has been laid and build upon it to propel Golden Eagle basketball to greater heights. We believe Steve will be a very popular choice with our fan base and he has been recognized nationally as an up-and-coming young coach. This team has a strong nucleus returning and we don't think they will skip a beat in the transition between the leadership of coach Sutton and the leadership of coach Payne."
Payne came to Tech in 2002 as assistant coach under Sutton, and has been the top assistant on the staff for nine years, rising to the post of associate head coach.
"I want to thank coach Sutton for taking the chances on a junior college coach from Texas," Payne said. "I have always been proud to represent Tennessee Tech and I am even more so today. When I came here, my goal was to be a Division I coach. After being here, that goal changed. I wanted to be the coach of Tennessee Tech University. Outside of the day I was saved, my marriage and the birth of my children, this is the biggest, most exciting day of my life. I am excited, honored and humbled to be Tennessee Tech's head coach. It is truly a dream come true."
Payne came to Tech as assistant coach, but found himself vaulted into a much more demanding role when Sutton was stricken in 2005 with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, sidelining Sutton for the early portion of that year. With Payne handling the day-to-day operations of the program, the Golden Eagles raced out to an 8-2 start with losses 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. During the past year, Payne 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 again this past winter.
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 was listed as one of 15 finalists for the Hugh Durham Award honoring the mid-major Coach of the Year. CBSsportsline.com also named him OVC Coach of the Year.
Payne began his career at Tech after serving as the head coach at Frank Phillips Junior College in Borger, Texas. Prior to taking the reins at Frank Phillips JC, Payne was associate head coach for four years at Georgetown (Ky.) College. During his time at Georgetown, the Tigers compiled a 128-22 record, won three conference titles in four years, and won the NAIA national title in 1997-98. The team finished second at the NAIA National Tournament in 1999-00, and advanced to the Sweet 16 two other years. Payne also served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northwestern State (La.) University where he helped NSU to its best conference finish in a decade. Before NSU, he was 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.
While his title changes, Payne sees the program going through a seamless transition.
"I've always taken ownership of this program. It's different suggesting to the head coach what you think is best for the program, and being the one with the final say, but I feel I'm prepared for this. I've done this before. We have great players, a great staff, and great administration, and I'm looking forward to continuing the upward trend of men's basketball at Tennessee Tech."
Payne said he was greatly influenced by Sutton during the past nine seasons
"Spending nine years around coach Sutton will be a huge benefit," Payne said. "He's a very knowledgeable coach. We've been through a lot and I'm ready to take the next challenge. I want to face what's ahead of us. I appreciate and will always owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Sutton for bringing me here. The lessons I've learned from him over the last nine years cannot be measured. He has taught me so many things, but the main thing is that a basketball program should be about relationships first. The relationships we have with each other, and with our community, are what make a basketball program special. I couldn't be more proud to be representing a university community and a man in coach Sutton who has handled a very tough situation with such class and poise. I will do my very best to make him and our entire Tech family proud."
Among the challenges Payne faces is continuing to develop pride in the Golden Eagle program.
"We've had some great players in the last nine years," Payne said. "Not only the past nine years, but throughout the history of this program. I've seen firsthand that there's a lot of pride out there in Tennessee Tech basketball, and I'm looking forward to giving our fans and players even more reasons to be proud."
Recruiting and working with the current players is Payne's top priority in the coming weeks.
"We'll continue our recruiting, but the most important people are the guys who are in our program right now," Payne said. "They're the foundation of our team next year. We have to make sure that that they're getting stronger, getting better everyday."
Getting out into the community will be an important part of Payne's plans.
"I want to sell our program. I want our fans to be as passionate about our team and our school as I am. If we can do that, we'll be okay. I want people to invest in this program. We have everything in place to be successful and we're excited about moving forward."