It can be rough when star players return to coach

Woodson, Howard and Payne are enduring disappointment and fan backlash this season

Feb 24, 2024; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson makes his case to an official.
Feb 24, 2024; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson makes his case to an official. / Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Woodson, Juwan Howard and Kenny Payne have quite a bit in common.

The men’s basketball head coaches at Indiana, Michigan and Louisville, respectively, were standout basketball players in college for — you guessed it — Indiana, Michigan and Louisville.

Woodson played four seasons for the Hoosiers from 1976 to 1980 and ranks fifth all-time in scoring for the IU men’s program. He averaged 19.8 points per game.

Howard played for the Wolverines as a member of the “Fab Five” of highly touted freshmen in 1991-92 (the others were Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson). Howard played two more seasons at UM before leaving for the NBA. He averaged 15.3 points per game.

Payne played four seasons for the Cardinals from 1986-89. He averaged 8.5 points per game overall, but 14.5 points per game as a senior.

All three current college coaches were first-round NBA draft picks as players.

And all three have had less than stellar coaching seasons in 2023-24. 

Are the seats getting hotter?

The term “hot seat” has been applied to all three, although it appears Payne’s seat is the hottest, and I fully expect Woodson will return with several new players on the roster next season.

Indiana is 15-13 after Tuesday night's welcome win over Wisconsin — not terrible, but indeed not anything that has Hoosier fans jumping for joy when they know an NCAA tournament bid is impossible unless IU wins the Big Ten tournament.

In his third season, Woodson’s coaching record overall is 59-39, a .602 winning percentage.

Howard’s coaching record is 87-68, an overall .561 winning percentage, but his last three seasons have disappointed at 19-15, 18-16, and 8-20 in 2023-24. He’s in his fifth year as UM’s head coach.

Payne is in his second season as Louisville head coach, and to say it hasn’t gone well is a major understatement. His coaching record consists of a 4-28 mark in 2022-23 and 8-19 this season, for a .203 winning percentage overall going into a Wednesday night matchup against (gulp) Duke.

Speculation is rampant in the Bluegrass State that Payne will be gone soon after the season ends. The timing probably will be affected by the cost of buying out the rest of his contract, which drops by $2 million after March 31.

Fans and the news media in the Ann Arbor area also are talking about buyout numbers with respect to Howard’s future with the Wolverines.

Popular hires don’t always pay dividends

Is there a lesson in all of this? It seems obvious. Hiring a former star player as your head coach brings a lot of goodwill and excitement when the hire is announced, but be prepared for the possibility of significant turbulence once the games begin.