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Pat Kelsey is introduced as Louisville's basketball coach, calling it 'the ultimate job'

Charleston head coach Pat Kelsey reacts during the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Alabama in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville athletic director Josh Heird set a goal of hiring a coach who wanted the job so badly he would crawl to the campus to accept it.

Pat Kelsey didn't do that, but he demonstrated plenty of energy and passion when he was introduced as the Cardinals' coach on Thursday. He almost talked himself hoarse while describing his vision for the moribund program, his appreciation for Louisville's tradition and, of course, his intensity.

“I expressed to Josh that I would I run here," Kelsey said. "It’s the best job in the United States of America. He knew how bad I wanted it. ... But I was ready when my name was called. I think I’ve been prepared for that interview my entire life. It’s the ultimate job.”

The 48-year-old Kelsey, who went 75-27 in three seasons at Charleston, succeeds Kenny Payne, a former Cardinals player who was fired after going 12-52 in two historically bad seasons. Louisville has endured three consecutive losing seasons preceded by a series of scandals, one of which culminated in 123 vacated victories including its 2013 national title. The Cardinals made their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019 under Chris Mack.

Kelsey mentioned Payne along with Hall of Fame coaches Denny Crum and Rick Pitino as part of the program's tradition and said his predecessor is welcome. That remains to be seen considering the criticism Payne faced from a fan base desperate for Louisville to regain relevance.

His hiring capped a prolonged search by Heird, who expressed his desire for a candidate “dying to coach” the program who would “crawl” to Louisville because it means that much. Baylor's Scott Drew and Florida Atlantic's Dusty May, who took the Michigan job, were mentioned as targets before Kelsey's name surfaced.

“This search took longer than people wanted it to," Heird said. “I understand that, but I was not going to compromise on any of those traits. I’ve just discussed that this hire means too much to say, ‘This guy is pretty good, but ...’ I don’t have to say that about Pat Kelsey. We found the absolute best guy for the job.”

The Cincinnati native received a five-year contract with a base annual salary of $2.3 million plus incentives, which include $50,000 for reaching the NCAA Tournament, another $50,000 for each March Madness victory and $500,000 for winning the national championship. The University of Louisville Athletic Association approved the deal before Kelsey's news conference at the Cardinals' practice facility, which was packed with fans and school officials.

The importance of the transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL) in college athletics didn't seem to faze Kelsey, who comes from a Charleston program Heird said was one of the nation's most resourced in NIL outside the power conferences.

Kelsey led the Cougars to a 27-8 record this past season and their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. He won consecutive Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament championships. His 261-122 career record includes a 187-95 mark at Winthrop, which won four Big South Conference regular-season titles and three tournament crowns from 2016-2021.

“Louisville just got a significant upgrade to its men’s basketball program," Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts said in a statement. "We wish Pat, (wife) Lisa and the Kelsey family all the best in this new chapter of their lives.”

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AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness