PROVO — Will a Pope become the next head coach of BYU basketball?
Utah Valley University coach Mark Pope, 46, is a leading candidate to take over the job for Dave Rose, who is expected to step down Tuesday.
It makes a lot of sense, of course. Pope spent four seasons as Rose’s top assistant from 2011-2015 before taking over at UVU. He arrived in Provo the year after Jimmermania and the Cougars’ first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 seasons and replaced Dave Rice. With Pope on the bench, BYU went to three NCAA Tournaments and had a run to the NIT semifinals.
At UVU, Pope has taken the Wolverines to new heights with a 77-55 record (.583), including three straight CBI appearances. He reportedly earns a base salary of $1.275 million as part of his six-year contract. He signed an extension last summer.
In 2016, UVU beat BYU at the Marriott Center, 114-101. Leading the way for the Wolverines was BYU transfer Isaac Nielson, who scored a team-high 26 points.
During his tenure, Pope has welcomed other BYU transfers like guard Jake Toolson, the 2019 Western Athletic Conference player of the year.
Not long after being hired at UVU, Pope told the Deseret News’ Doug Robinson, “We’re not trying to be BYU. But we can be some things BYU can’t be, mix in some players that might not be able to play there.”
As a player, Pope, a 6-foot-10 center, played at Washington, transferred to Kentucky, where he helped the Wildcats win the 1996 national championship. He then embarked on a nine-year professional career, both in the NBA and overseas. Among Pope’s coaches were Rick Pitino, Larry Bird and George Karl.
During his playing career, Pope had a wide array of experiences, from the glory of winning an NCAA title to being a reserve at the end of an NBA bench.
That has shaped Pope’s coaching style.
“Dealing with the game mentally and emotionally is tricky,” Pope said while he was a BYU assistant. “They’re vulnerable kids, they’re chasing dreams, they’re dealing with changing dynamics all the time. Going through that process helps you relate to what they’re feeling on a day-to-day standpoint.
“I’ve been really, really blessed to be with great players and how they do things. The way you stay alive is by trying to listen to every innuendo the coach throws out there and you try to do it exactly the way he wants you to. That’s how you stay alive. I was blessed to be around great people. Hopefully, all of those little things I was able to pick up along the way, I can pass on to guys if they’re interested. That’s been really helpful. Then there’s the experience of going through it.”
Pope married Lee Anne Archibald, a BYU graduate. Her dad is the late Lynn Archibald, who was Utah’s head coach in the 1980s and an assistant at BYU in the 1990s. Lee Anne’s brother, Damon and Beau, have coached at the major college level.
But Pope hasn’t been in the coaching business very long, relatively speaking.
About a decade ago, he was three years into studying at the University of Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons when he left to take a basketball coaching job.
Before being hired by Rose at BYU, he had spent one season as the director of basketball operations at Georgia, followed by one season as an assistant at Wake Forest.
Pope and Rose became acquainted while they were both on the road recruiting. When Rose had an opening on his staff, Pope aggressively pursued the position.
“I had to beg coach Rose. I begged and pleaded day after day after day,” Pope once said. “Finally he said, ‘All right, I’ll talk to you.’ I think he just got sick of me, so he let me come. This is an unbelievable opportunity to work for him and be at this school.”
When he arrived at BYU as an assistant eight years ago, he shared his feelings for the school.41 comments on this story
“It’s a special program and a special staff and a great group of kids, a chance to be at this university, which is so unique," Pope said. "It’s become more and more apparent to me, being a coach in college at a couple of different places, really understanding how unique and special this place is and I really sprinted toward the opportunity to be a part of it.
"This is a place like no other in college basketball. I’m fortunate to be here … Being an LDS guy, you’re watching BYU. Everybody has been watching BYU the last couple of years because the program’s been so good and so fun to watch. I was keeping tabs on it and I always thought it would be really amazing to have the opportunity to coach here someday. It worked out perfectly.”
Has the time and opportunity arrived for Pope to become the next head basketball coach at BYU?