LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Discussion about the next University of Louisville basketball coach remains centered on Chris Mack of Xavier, although a group of former U of L players have continued to advocate for former Cardinal Kenny Payne, the top assistant coach at the University of Kentucky.

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said he has been told the job will be offered to Mack, but a source said U of L interim athletic director Vince Tyra asked UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart and coach John Calipari for permission to talk to Payne.

Tyra did not return a phone call Saturday to discuss the coaching situation, which opened Wednesday when Tyra announced that interim coach David Padgett will not continue as head coach. Padgett took charge last fall after the school dismissed Rick Pitino.

Vitale said that he has been told the offer to Mack will be for at least $4 million a year for five or six seasons.

“Chris Mack has the job if he wants it,” Vitale said. “He just has to decide if he wants it.

“I think he’ll take it, but there’s a slight chance he’ll stay at Xavier. Who knows what will happen when he sits in the room and talks to the people at Xavier. (Former North Carolina State coach) Jimmy Valvano always told me, ‘Don’t mess with happy,’ and if he’s happy at Xavier, maybe he will stay.

“Until somebody signs on the dotted line, it’s never a done deal.”

A group of former Louisville players continue to push for Payne, who played for the Cardinals from 1985-89 and was a first-round NBA draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. Billy Thompson, a star on Louisville’s 1986 NCAA championship team, said he and other teammates believe Payne has the coaching experience, people skills and basketball knowledge to succeed.

“Everybody knows that Kenny Payne is one of the top assistant coaches in the country,” Thompson said. “All he needs is the opportunity.

“Look at the job he’s done at Kentucky, developing players and building relationships. To me, it’s a no-brainer. Milt (Wagner), Pervis (Ellison), Scooter and Rodney (McCray), a lot of us believe that Kenny would unite the program and the community.”

Mack, a Xavier alum, led the Musketeers to a 29-6 record and the Big East regular-season title this season. Xavier was the Number One seed in the NCAA Tournament West Regional, but Mack’s team was upset by Florida State in the second round last Sunday.

Xavier finished seventh in the Big East last season, second in 2015 and tied for third in 2014. Mack’s overall record over nine seasons is 215-97. He served as assistant coach for Sean Miller at Xavier before his alma mater gave Mack his first head coaching opportunity.

Payne is one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college basketball, earning more than $800,000 and has worked with Calipari since 2010. Payne started his coaching career at Oregon for Ernie Kent.

“Kenny’s X and Os are off the charts, but where he really excels is his ability to get today’s young people to do things they might not want to do,” Kent said.

“Kenny moves the needle with kids, especially today’s kids. That’s a skill you have to have to be successful today. You can be the greatest coach in the world, but if kids don’t respond to what you’re telling them, you’re in trouble. Kids respond to Kenny.”

Calipari has credited Payne for his work with Kentucky big men Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Bam Adebayo, all first-round NBA draft choices.

“I talk to KP every day,” Adebayo said. “KP is a like a father to me. Players love and respect KP because he’s been where we’ve been. He’s in your ear to keep you positive but he also knows how to get on you. The players respect him.”

Melvin Booker is the father of former Kentucky guard Devin Booker, who has starred for the Phoenix Suns the last three seasons. Booker said after he took Devin to Lexington in 2014, he went to Payne’s office and gave him the spare set of keys to his son’s car.

“I told Kenny that if he felt like he needed to take Devin’s car, he could take the car,” Melvin Booker said.

“That’s how much trust I have in Kenny. I consider Kenny family. So does Devin. I think he’d be a great head coach, especially at his alma mater.”

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