Cincinnati Cyclones Announce Jason Payne as New Head Coach, Pro Hockey's Only Current Head Coach of Color

Payne moves up from assistant coach to take over for Matt Thomas, who is heading to the Providence Bruins.

Aug 31, 2021 at 3:52 pm
click to enlarge Jason Payne, left, takes over as the Cincinnati Cyclones' head coach as Matt Thomas, right, departs. - Photo: Tony Bailey, Cincinnati Cyclones
Photo: Tony Bailey, Cincinnati Cyclones
Jason Payne, left, takes over as the Cincinnati Cyclones' head coach as Matt Thomas, right, departs.

It's a new era for the Cincinnati Cyclones, with one coach departing and another taking the reins.

The Cyclones announced Tuesday that Jason Payne will become the team's newest head coach. Payne, who until today had been the Cyclones' assistant coach, replaces Matt Thomas, who will become the assistant coach for the Providence Bruins.

"We are going to remain committed to continuing our development both on and off the ice for our players and in the community. As an organization, we are equally committed to continuing the growth of minor league hockey, as well as the overall growth of the sport in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Area," Payne, 45, says in an Aug. 31 release. "From our fans, to our players, to our staff, this is a first-class organization and I will continue to treat it as such. I’m excited for what this season will bring for our team."

As Payne ascends to team leader and director of hockey operations, he also becomes the only coach of color in professional hockey today as well as the Cincinnati Cyclones' first head coach of color, according to a release from the team. Payne, who is Black, is a member of the NHL Coaches Association BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Coaches Program. He is only the fifth head coach of color in professional hockey history.

Payne joined the Cyclones as assistant coach before the 2018-2019 season. Prior to that, he spent time as a skating coach, scout and skills coach for numerous teams before becoming general manager for the Georgetown Raiders.

Payne began his hockey career in 1999 with the now-defunct Cincinnati Mighty Ducks before heading to the Dayton Bombers. He played for 14 years and amassed 1,825 penalty minutes, a release says.

Payne will take over for Matt Thomas who will become the next assistant coach for the Providence Bruins, the Boston Bruins' main development team. Thomas took the top Cyclones job prior to the 2018-2019 season and collected an 89-30-16 regular-season record during his reign. In 2019, the Cyclones went to the Kelly Cup Playoffs while capturing the Brabham Cup, an award given to the team with the best regular-season record. Thomas was named the John Brophy ECHL Coach of the Year in 2019.

"The opportunity to coach in Cincinnati has been very rewarding,” Thomas says in a release. "The organization from top to bottom is second to none. Our fans make this a special place to play and coach and I can’t thank the players enough for their commitment to winning on a daily basis."

As CityBeat reported in March, the Cyclones will host its first home game of the season on October 30 against the Indy (Indianapolis) Fuel at Heritage Bank Center. It will be the Cyclones’ first game in about a year and a half, as the coronavirus pandemic canceled the end of the 2019-2020 season and the Cyclones opted out of the 2020-2021 season. And yes, delicious $1 beers will be back.

Cincinnati’s pro hockey team last played on March 11, 2020, in Toledo. The Cyclones’ last home game was March 7 of last year.

Find game schedules and tickets on the Cincinnati Cyclones website.

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