PROVO — Mark Pope, the widely publicized front-runner in BYU’s search to lead its men’s basketball program, will be named the Cougars' head basketball coach today.
"Director of athletics Tom Holmoe will introduce Mark Pope as the next head coach of the BYU men’s basketball program at a press conference today at 3 p.m. MDT in Studio A of the BYU Broadcasting Building," reads a news release from BYU.
The expected hire was first reported by the Deseret News earlier today.
“Pope just checks off all the boxes for BYU in terms of Division I experience, his ability to connect with the community, raise money and his knowledge and experience at the highest level of college play. He has NBA experience and connections key in recruiting, familiarity in working with the school’s unique challenges. He is the most qualified,” one source said.
BYU’s hiring process is a long and time-consuming routine and requires top-level approval from the administration and Board of Trustees.
Multiple people familiar with BYU’s job search said athletic director Tom Holmoe and senior associate athletic director Brian Santiago conducted “effective, respectful, in-depth” interviews with candidates. “They did their due diligence,” said one candidate who interviewed for the job.
Those who were familiar with the interview sessions said they were impressed at how detailed those interviews were. Key elements of the interviews included respective recruiting connections — both recruits who are members of the school’s faith and those who are not — skill development, an emphasis on defense, offensive philosophies and leadership abilities.
Sources said it was evident during the interviews that Holmoe and Santiago were concerned about immediate recruiting needs, including the ability to connect with top prospects like prep forward Caleb Lohner, a Texan who is currently playing at Wasatch Academy. Connections to foreign countries were also discussed during the interview process.
A high priority was a candidate’s ability to assemble a hard-working, talented staff that could be counted on to recruit and devote hours in dissecting film, analytics and game planning and scouting necessary to make BYU basketball the legacy program the administration desires — and that includes successful postseason play.
Queries into staffing were specific of the prospective coaches. Some candidates were asked if they would consider being an assistant coach to BYU’s new hire if they did not get the head job.
A national champion as a player at Kentucky, longtime NBA veteran and former assistant at BYU, Pope was viewed as the leading candidate from the outset of the school’s search for a new coach to replace Dave Rose, who retired on March 26 after 14 seasons at the helm.
Pope, 46, enjoyed an impressive run in his previous role as the head coach at Utah Valley University, where he compiled a record of 77-55 (.583), including three straight CBI appearances.
Pope would take over a program that had won at least 20 games for 13 consecutive seasons until this past one, when the Cougars finished 19-13 and failed to earn an invitation to either the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 2005.
Known for his exuberance and energy, Pope will look to breathe new life into the program, which stagnated during Rose’s final years at the helm. Pope is married to Lee Anne Archibald, a BYU graduate. Her dad, the late Lynn Archibald, was Utah’s head coach in the 1980s and served as an assistant at BYU in the 1990s. Lee Anne’s brothers, Damon and Beau, have coached at the major college level.
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.
As a player, Pope, a 6-foot-10 center, played at Washington, then 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.
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 his coaching style.
Pope’s coach at Kentucky, Rick Pitino, has a lot of confidence in Pope’s potential as a coach.
“With all of the job openings, someone should jump to hire Mark Pope,” Pitino tweeted in March. “He has done a great job at Utah Valley. 5 star teacher, recruiter, and person. A superstar on the horizon.”
Former BYU star Travis Hansen, a close friend of Pope’s, agrees with that assessment.
“When you build an organization, a leader is hard to find. I don’t know where to start to name all the attributes he has. Then he goes and marries Lynn Archibald’s daughter, who’s 9.9 on the scale of a perfect coach’s wife. She’s so good. They’re a power couple,” Hansen told the Deseret News early in the search process. “Mark has the pedigree, which is really important with players. And the credibility that he has — he won a national championship as a player, he played under (Rick) Pitino and he played in the NBA.
“From my point of view, there will be a lot of candidates,” he continued. “The school will go through the due process. They’ll make sure they talk to every candidate out there and interview them. I’m biased with Mark. If it’s not BYU, he’ll end up somewhere. We’re either going to watch him on BYUtv or on ESPN, because the guy’s good.”
“Just watching what he’s done at UVU, he’s been really successful," said former Cougar guard Skyler Halford, who played under Pope at BYU. “He has great mentors like coach Rose and coach Pitino. I think he’d be a great fit for the program. He’s already been there and he knows how things work. He knows the game. He played it for a long time and played for great coaches and coached with great coaches.
“He’s got the Xs and Os and recruiting down. He’s a coach that really knows how to get in touch with his players and understand them and get the most out of them,” he continued. “You have one conversation with Mark Pope and you feel better because of it. You have the feeling he’s interested in you. That’s something I’ve always admired about him. His energy is level 100. With his UVU team, he’ll come in with squirt guns or water balloons after a big win. He makes the game fun but not to where you’re losing that mental edge."
Other candidates for the job included Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen; Portland State head coach Barret Peery; and BYU interim head coach Quincy Lewis. Utah Jazz assistant Alex Jensen reportedly interviewed for the job.
Pope was reportedly also a candidate for head coaching jobs like Cal, UNLV and Georgia.
Pope joined BYU’s staff in 2011, replacing Dave Rice, who took the head coaching job at UNLV.
“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.74 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. 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,” he continued. “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.”
Note: Jeff Call contributed to this story.