Big 12 Basketball

Kentucky Officially Hires BYU Head Coach Mark Pope

Dec 9, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope looks on in the game against the Utah Utes during the first half at Jon M. Huntsman Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has officially hired BYU coach Mark Pope to replace John Calipari, as a release from the university announced on Friday morning.

Pope became the focus of the Wildcats’ coaching search after Baylor’s Scott Drew and UConn’s Dan Hurley opted to stick with their current situations rather than take on the job in Lexington. On Friday, the decision was made official, making Pope the 23rd coach in Kentucky basketball history.

This comes a day after Baylor coach Scott Drew announced that he was staying at Baylor and two days removed from his family taking a private plane to Lexington to tour the city while Drew dined at a Mexican restaurant in Waco. A discussion with his family Wednesday night led to his decision on Thursday.

 

While Kentucky targeted Drew and Hurey first, Pope brings a level of respect and understanding for Big Blue Nation that the other candidates couldn’t match.

“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” Barnhart said. “As a captain on the ‘96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense, and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.

“He fully embraces our high expectations and standards, and I know that as our fans get reacquainted with Mark, they will be eager to join him on what promises to be an exciting ride.”

Pope was a member of the Wildcats 1996 national championship squad under Rick Pitino, a team that produced eight NBA Draft picks, including Pope, who played six seasons in the NBA.

 

He took over at BYU in 2019, and in his fifth season, he led their transition into the Big 12. Ranked in the Top 25 most of the season, Pope and the Cougars went 23-11 and earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Between five seasons at BYU and four seasons at Utah Valley (2015-19), he had a 187-108 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

Now, getting back to his roots, Pope inherits a ready-made national title contender in Kentucky and should have all the tools necessary to continue bringing in the best talent in college basketball.

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball. It’s the definition of blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation ever year,” Pope said. “Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope’s exit from BYU marks the third opening in the Big 12 since the regular season ended. Oklahoma State fired Mike Boynton Jr. after seven seasons and hired Western Kentucky’s Steve Lutz. West Virginia dismissed interim coach Josh Eilert and hired Drake’s Darian DeVries.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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