BasketballBig 12HiringSEC

UK alum Mark Pope hired to take over as Kentucky head coach

After five seasons at BYUMark Pope has been hired to be the new head coach at his alma mater, Kentucky. Pope was part of the 1996 Wildcats’ team that won the National Championship. He went 110-52 overall and this past season won 23 games and reached the NCAA Tournament in the program’s first season in the Big 12.

“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,” AD Mitch Barnhart said on Friday. “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 has 187 head coaching wins overall from his time at BYU and before that at Utah Valley (2015-19). He has won 20+ games in six of his nine seasons as a head coach, and went to two NCAA Tournaments and one NIT with the Cougars as well as three CBIs with UVU.

In addition to his time as a player, he also spent one year in the SEC as an assistant coach at Georgia earlier in his career. He also worked at Wake Forest and had a four-year stint as an assistant at BYU under Dave Rose before getting the Utah Valley job. He also played in the NBA in parts of six seasons with the Pacers (1997-99), Bucks (2000-02) and Nuggets (2003-05).

“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, 51, replaces John Calipari, who recently left for conference rival Arkansas after fifteen years in Lexington. Calipari led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and won the National Championship in 2012, but had only won one NCAA Tournament game over the last four seasons and felt his seat getting very hot despite a massive buyout that kept him from getting fired.

Throughout the short but high-profile coaching search, Barnhart was reportedly focused first on Dan Hurley, Nate Oats and Scott Drew, all of whom would eventually decline. There are conflicting reports that there was interest – either one-sided or mutual – in current Chicago Bulls’ coach Billy Donovan, but he never publicly acknowledged that amidst his team’s current playoff push.


credit to Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune for the photo