DENVER (CBS4) – College coaching is often a lonely profession. Road trips, recruiting trips, long film sessions — it can take a toll on a life and lifestyle. But for University of Colorado coaches JR Payne and Toriano Towns, they’ve made it work by working with one another.
At first glance, Payne and Towns are just your average coaches. Average coaches that work on the same staff — and just so happen to be married to one another.
“Something that’s funny is a lot of people don’t know we’re married … if you were to hang out with us for a day around practice, the weight room, or be on the plane with us and travel, you wouldn’t know,” Payne said.
“I didn’t even notice it at first. You don’t really put the two together like, ‘Oh they’re married,'” said Kennedy Leonard, CU Women’s Guard.
“We had a player who came to play for us her sophomore year … and her teammate said something about JR and ‘T” a match, and she was like, “What? What are you talking about?’ We had recruited her and she got there, and she still didn’t know,” Payne said.
The couple met while they were athletes at St. Mary’s College in California. It was there they combined their love of basketball with their love for one another.
“Ironically we actually got into coach 12-year-old girls basketball when we were still in college. I think we won one game and we celebrated like we won the NCAA Tournament,” Towns said.
“We liked stormed the court,” Payne said.
“That was our first taste of coaching. I don’t think either of us really had any idea we’d end up in coaching,” Towns said.
Their careers have taken them — and their three children — all over the western United States, including stops in Utah, California — and now Boulder.
“They’re eight, five and 15 months. So the eight and five-year-old; they just think this is Disney Land … they love our players,” Payne said.
It’s not uncommon for coaches to preach family-first, but for Payne and Towns, it’s not just a catchy phrase.
“This is actually, I think, the epitome of a family because … we hang out with their kids … we’re with them more than their own kids are with them … so we’re more than just … their own kids …I think that’s what’s cool about it is; that we’re actually a family. We don’t just say it but we live it each day in practice and in our games,” Kennedy said.
In their first year at CU Payne and Towns resuscitated a program that won just seven games a year ago. With success like that, what’s not to love?
“This year it is night and day … people ask me, ‘What’s the biggest difference here? … What changed?’. I just think it’s the energy. Everything is positive,” Payne said.
“For us, we have so far to go … we look at the goals we have for a program in bringing back the type of success when that Ceal Barry was the coach … and just consistent success,” Payne said. “It is fantastic that we’ve won more games. We’re excited about how our team is playing. I think we’ve really bought into the style of play that we’d like to have with our program … we just see it as we’ve got a long way to go and we’re excited about it.”
CU finished the conference season with a 5-13 record in Pac-12 play. Last year they won just two games in conference play. They’ll begin the Pac-12 tournament as a 10 seed Thursday against Washington State.