Northwestern coach Russell Payne placed pen to paper on a multi-year contract extension, Athletic Director Derrick Gragg announced Thursday. Payne took over the program in May 2021 following longtime coach Tim Lenahan’s retirement.
— Northwestern Men’s Soccer (@NUMensSoccer) January 25, 2024
“Coach Payne’s dedication and leadership have been instrumental in shaping the success of our men’s soccer program this past season,” Gragg said in a Thursday news release. “This extension reinforces our confidence in Coach Payne and we believe he will lead us to even greater accomplishments on the field.”
Payne led the Wildcats to a 10-4-3 record during the 2023 season, helping five NU players secure All-Big Ten honors. The ’Cats soared to No. 12 in the national polls and contended for the conference’s regular season title, ultimately falling to Michigan on the Big Ten’s final matchday.
A skilled recruiter and program builder, Payne recruited a 2022 class that earned Top Drawer Soccer’s No. 5 national ranking. Several players in the class also earned significant early playtime, including First-Team All-Big Ten sophomore defender Nigel Prince and sophomore midfielder Jason Gajadhar.
Before Payne entered the coaching ranks, he played as a goalkeeper for Maryland for four seasons and enjoyed a professional career in both Europe and Major League Soccer.
Payne served as an assistant coach at Maryland for five seasons and then spent 11 seasons at Army West Point’s helm before coming to Evanston. He has also coached on several US youth and senior national teams staffs and held an assistant role on former interim head coach B.J. Callaghan’s two summer tournament cycles in 2023.
Payne will look to build on the proverbial program renaissance he ushered in during his third season at Martin Stadium — but he’ll need to replace his longtime assistant and key recruiter in Krystian Witkowski, who accepted Fairfield’s head coaching vacancy earlier this week.
Still, the Columbia, Maryland, native’s squad returns three of four backline starters alongside key midfield and attacking players ahead of the 2024 season. All-conference senior forward Justin Weiss’ collegiate future remains uncertain after he went undrafted in the MLS SuperDraft.
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