Sources: Kentucky finalizing deal to hire BYU’s Mark Pope

Sources: Kentucky finalizing deal to hire BYU’s Mark Pope

One of Kentucky’s own is returning to Lexington in an unlikely hire to replace John Calipari. 

BYU head coach Mark Pope, a part of Rick Pitino’s national championship team at Kentucky in 1996, is leaving Provo, Utah, to replace Calipari as the leader of the Wildcats program, multiple sources told FOX Sports.

A deal has not been officially signed yet, but the Wildcats and Pope are in the process of finalizing a deal as Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart has pegged Pope as the man to take over. 

The 51-year-old Pope has spent nine seasons as a college head coach, the last five of which have come at Brigham Young, where he’s led the Cougars to two NCAA Tournaments in the last four seasons. After spending seven seasons in the NBA as a player with the Pacers, Bucks, Knicks and Nuggets, Pope got his start in coaching as an assistant at Georgia from 2009-10 before heading to Wake Forest, then serving as an assistant under Dave Rose at BYU from 2011-15. 

Pope got his first head-coaching job in 2015 at Utah Valley, going 77-56 over four seasons before taking over for Rose in 2019. 

A captain on Kentucky’s 1995-96 national title team, Pope was one of nine future NBA players on the 34-2 squad that featured Tony Delk, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty. 

Pitino called Pope one of the hardest workers he’s ever coached, telling FOX Sports he “loves his former captain, a Kentucky great” earlier on Thursday night. 

After Scott Drew and Dan Hurley came out publicly and declined Kentucky’s lucrative offers earlier on Thursday, it intensified the urgency of a search that appeared to have a lot of unanswered questions entering the evening. Rather than going deeper with Chicago Bulls head coach and former Kentucky assistant Billy Donovan, Barnhart is going the route of bringing back an alum to the school that should allow Barnhart to have more of a say in how the program is run, certainly more so than what was in place with Calipari, who was introduced as the Arkansas head coach on Wednesday. 

Still, in terms of coaching credentials, Pope has never won an NCAA Tournament game and is relatively unproven in March compared to others who were involved in the search. He’ll have the spotlight and expectations firmly on him now as he returns to his alma mater.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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