Eddie Payne is a veteran of the coaching sideline, having spent 31 years as a head coach, and is in his 15th season at the helm of the Upstate men’s basketball program.
Payne has coached at all levels and divisions of college basketball, beginning his head coaching career on the junior college level and moving through the ranks in the NAIA and NCAA Division I, II and III. He is the only current D-I head coach to have coached at all five levels of college basketball and has compiled a 470-458 record.
Payne has also been instrumental in developing players who have gone on to play professional basketball. He has coached 13 players – Mario Blessing (Germany), Torrey Craig (Australia), Bobby Davis (Holland), Ricardo Glenn (Russia), Ivica Grgurovic (Croatia), Kevin Harrington (USBL), Charleston Long (Australia), Babatunde Olumuyiwa (Mexico), Luke Payne (Australia), Ante Pikunic (Croatia), Nick Schneiders (Germany) and Petros Tsampas (Greece) - who have signed professional contracts to play overseas. Former Spartan Ty Greene was also drafted by the Delaware 87ers in the third round of the 2015 NBA D-League Draft.
Payne’s teams have made steady progress since making the transition to Division I in 2007, resulting in four wins over schools from power five conferences, three appearances in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament semifinals, the school’s first-ever trip to the A-Sun Tournament final and three CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament berths. Payne has also produced two A-Sun Freshman of the Year and two A-Sun Player of the Year award winners.
The path back to prominence began during the 2011-12 season when 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 Upstate to 16 more wins than the season before. The season culminated with a home matchup against Kent State in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, giving the Upstate its first postseason berth in school history during the Division I era. Payne coached the Spartans to a 13-5 record in A-Sun play and finished tied for second in the league standings en route to earning Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year honors while being named the Hugh Durham National Mid-Major Coach of the Year. Along the way, Payne tallied his 400th career coaching victory on Feb. 25 with a 90-72 win over Stetson.
The 2012-13 season saw Payne lead Upstate to its first trip to the A-Sun Tournament semifinals following a lopsided victory over Jacksonville. The 2013-14 regular season proved that Upstate had reached new heights under the direction of Payne, as the Spartans opened the year with a thrilling victory at Virginia Tech to earn the program’s first-ever victory over an opponent from the ACC. Upstate once again turned heads later in the year when the Spartans upset South Carolina in Columbia to secure the first win over the SEC in school history.
Two Spartans earned all-conference honors at the end of the regular season, as Torrey Craig was rewarded with a first team selection and Ricardo Glenn took home second team honors. Craig, who established himself as one of the all-time greats in the A-Sun under Payne, finished his Upstate career ranked second all-time in points scored (2,128), first in rebounds (944), first in three-point field goals made (297), fifth in blocked shots (101), 11th in steals (138), fourth in field goals made (747) and third in free throws made (338). He also ended his career ranked fourth all-time in the A-Sun in points scored and fifth in both rebounding and three-pointers made.
Payne and Upstate broke through and reached the A-Sun Tournament final for the first time in school history during the 2014-15 season. The Spartans upset second-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the semifinals and came minutes away from knocking off top seed North Florida in the championship game. During the regular season, Payne guided Upstate to wins over Georgia Tech and Mississippi State and later won his 200th game at Upstate with a victory over James Madison in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. In addition, Upstate was ranked in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 Poll for the first time in school history. Individually, Upstate senior Ty Greene turned in one of the greatest seasons in school history on his way to earning A-Sun Player of the Year accolades. Additionally, Greene was selected as the Lou Henson National Mid-Major Player of the Year Award winner after ranking 11th in the NCAA in scoring, 18th in steals per game and 23rd in three-pointers per game.
The 2010-11 Spartans had just 10 years of D-I playing experience on their bench, making them one of the youngest groups in all of college basketball. Payne coached Upstate to a thrilling 93-91 (2 OT) win over NCAA Tournament participant UNC Asheville in the first game inside the newly renovated Hodge Center (Nov. 29). The Spartans lost a total of five games by eight points or fewer, including a five-point home loss to A-Sun Champion Belmont. Under Payne’s guidance, Craig earned A-Sun Freshman of the Year honors after finishing the season averaging 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest.
In 2009-10, a young squad posted the second-most A-Sun wins since the transition, while playing the 16th-toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy in his statistical analysis of every NCAA Division I team. Upstate lost seven games by six points or less in 2009-10 and 11 by nine or less.
In 2008-09, Upstate played the nation’s 29th-toughest non-conference schedule according to Pomeroy, yet improved its overall and A-Sun win totals. The Spartans won nine games, an improvement of two wins over the previous year, while winning three more conference games than in 2007-08. He also fostered the development of Bobby Davis, who broke Upstate’s career rebounding average and became the first Spartan to receive All-A-Sun honors.
Payne led Upstate into the D-I Era, when the Spartans took the floor at Utah on Nov. 9, 2007. Upstate traveled more than 20,000 miles roundtrip from Spartanburg to play its 30-game schedule that year. The Spartans played games in eight states and five time zones, including Alaska, as Payne and the men’s basketball program spread the USC Upstate name across the nation.
Payne’s Spartans won their first game against a D-I opponent on Dec. 18, 2007, a 58-56 victory at SMU in Dallas. Upstate played its first contest on regional ESPN television, when the Spartans traveled to Iowa State on Jan. 2. Following the Iowa State game, Upstate’s schedule was ranked as the 18th-toughest in the country.
Payne returned the USC Upstate men’s basketball program to national prominence on the NCAA Division II level, leading the Spartans to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA D-II Tournament in 2004-05 and 2005-06. His Spartan teams won two straight league championships in the Peach Belt Conference, claiming a share of the regular season championship with Kennesaw State in 2004-05 and winning the conference tournament title for the first time in school history in 2005-06.
Payne’s 2006-07 team finished with a 17-11 record, the fourth winning record and fifth non-losing mark in five seasons with the Spartans. In 2005-06, he led Upstate to a 20-10 record and the program’s first PBC Tournament championship. The Spartans advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and maintained a Top 25 national ranking early in the season.
Payne had a monumental year in 2004-05, returning Upstate to the top of the Peach Belt by winning the North Division title and claiming a share of the Peach Belt Championship with South Division foe Kennesaw State. The Spartans jumped into the NABC/NCAA Division II Top 25 at No. 15 on Jan. 25, 2005, and moved as high as No. 8 during the season. Upstate settled for a final No. 25 national ranking. He also led the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, advancing to the second round before losing to eventual national champion Virginia Union. On a personal note, Payne reached 300 career wins in his 20th year of coaching, earned Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors and was named South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year.
In his first year as head coach of the Spartans in 2002-03, Payne restored USC Upstate to the level of success it has been accustomed to since the early 1980s. The 2002-03 Spartans recorded an 18-11 record, finished second in the North Division of the Peach Belt Conference, and advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament. In 2003-04, Payne led the Spartans to a third place finish in the North Division and claimed 14 wins on the season.
Payne came to USC Upstate after serving as the head men’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Greensboro College for two years.
Prior to his stint at Greensboro College, Payne served at the helm of the Oregon State program from 1995-2000. Among his victories were wins over Stanford (No. 15 in 1996-97 and No. 6 in 1998-99), UCLA (No. 8 in 1998-99) and Arizona (No. 9 in 1998-99 and No. 3 in 1999-2000). Payne also coached four Pac-10 All-Freshman team members, including Corey Benjamin. He also coached three Pac-10 All-Newcomer and three Pac-10 All-Academic honorees. He recruited and coached Deaundra Tanner, who finished as the eighth-leading scorer in school history.
Before his stint at Oregon State, Payne was the head coach at East Carolina from 1991-95. He led the Pirates to 56 wins in his four years at the school and won the program’s only Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship in 1993. His 1994-95 squad went 18-11 and his teams won 33 games in the final two seasons he was the head coach of the Pirates. ECU defeated James Madison in the conference championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament in 1993. ECU was pitted against North Carolina in the first round of the tournament and was eliminated by the eventual national champions. He coached five CAA All-Rookie and two All-Conference selections at ECU.
Payne began his head coaching career at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, leading the junior college program to a 25-5 record in his only season at the helm of the program in 1978-79.
Payne became the head coach at Belmont Abbey in 1981 and remained at the head of the program for five years, leaving the position after the 1986 season. He tallied a 103-51 record the Abbey.
In addition to his stints as a head coach, Payne has also served as an assistant coach at three NCAA Division I programs. He was on the sidelines at Clemson from 1975-78 as an assistant during the Tree Rollins era. From 1979-81, he was an assistant at East Carolina, where he made such an impression on the athletic administration that he was hired as the head coach of the program 10 years after his departure for Belmont Abbey.
Payne also served on the coaching staff of George Felton at South Carolina from 1986-91. The Gamecocks tallied an 87-62 record during Payne’s stint at the school. South Carolina advanced to the NCAA East Regional in 1989 and the postseason NIT in 1991. Payne coached six All-Metro Conference selections during his tenure, including standouts Jo Jo English and John Hudson.
Payne graduated from Wake Forest with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications in 1973. He was a member of the Demon Deacon basketball team from 1970-73. He received the school’s prestigious Arnold Palmer Award as the Outstanding Student-Athlete in 1973. Twenty-five years later his son, Luke, earned similar honors at USC Upstate as the school’s Student-Athlete of the Year. In addition to the Arnold Palmer Award, he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player as a senior in 1973. Upon graduation, he continued his playing career professionally in France from 1973-74, leading Domene as it advanced to the D-1 level in France. He earned a Master of Education degree from Clemson in 1978, while serving as an assistant coach. He graduated from East Mecklenburg High School and was an All-State selection in basketball.
Payne and his wife, Ann, have a son, Luke, who graduated from Upstate in May of 2008 and was a standout on the men’s basketball team, finishing his career ranked ninth all-time in scoring with 1,381 points. Mrs. Payne is a former women’s head coach at Alabama, Charlotte, Belmont Abbey and Berry College.