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Dick Harmon: What will the Mark Pope era look like as he takes over BYU's storied basketball program?

Mark Pope speaks as he is introduced as BYU's new basketball coach during a press conference in Provo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
Mark Pope speaks as he is introduced as BYU's new basketball coach during a press conference in Provo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
Scott Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Mark Pope will usher in a new era of basketball at BYU. What will that look like?

First of all, it will be a fresh approach with new energy and a chance to re-engage the engines that have driven BYU basketball, a legendary program with a worldwide following.

After spending hours talking to people familiar with this hire, descriptions of the approach taken by BYU’s administrators with candidates interviewed to replace Dave Rose, it is evident the school wanted to distance itself from the frustrations of BYU’s last loss of the season. That embarrassing, lopsided defeat came against San Diego in the West Coast Conference Tournament, where the Cougars were chased off the floor by a team they’d defeated twice before.

How will things get done?

Primarily on the back of a personal touch. This is Pope's gift.

"Dave Rose set a standard of excellence and expectations at BYU are extremely high and that excites me," Pope told reporters Wednesday.

The classy touch.

It will be done by deploying a new approach, new design, different faces, a different and more intense process, a broad recruiting pitch for talent on a global level, a renewed effort to evaluate and admit junior college and Division I transfers, and by assembling a staff that will produce more for the buck.

It will also take more bucks. Just because BYU built a beautiful practice annex, doesn’t mean there is not a need to inject more money into the program for analytics and staffing.

This is where Pope is expected to excel. He is one of the most engaging personalities in the state’s coaching ranks as far as glad-handing donors, building contacts and relationships. Utah Valley built a practice facility because he demanded one if he was going to work there. He even helped to raise the money.

Pope brings that gift and many of those contacts with him to BYU. He can tell a recruit he is the school’s only coach in history that won a national title, played for a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino and played in the NBA. That has never happened before. It’s salesmanship.

You can break down new processes and approaches as much as you want. And those possibilities alone are intriguing.

But so too is the anticipation of who he’ll hire as his staff workhorses. After watching the previous staff grow stale and lose games because the process broke down, who Pope brings in to help will be fun to watch.

But the key lifeblood to any basketball program is recruiting.

The thing about basketball recruiting is one or two signees can make a huge difference. I don’t think BYU recruiters have fully taken advantage of a pitch to parents that no matter if they live in Yugoslavia or Rhode Island or Portugal or South Africa, they can see almost every game their sons play on TV.

Pope claims he will cast a wide net, even go international. He said his key is to be 100 percent transparent with BYU's pre-sorted early on type recruit. He wants to make it all about the player.

It is safe to say, for the past few years, the fire that brought the Keena Youngs and Rafael Araujos to Provo has been missing. Some of the player departures have been puzzling if not frustrating. The Cougar program has suffered greatly for losing players before they finished their senior seasons.

If Pope had been on BYU’s staff, I don’t think Eric Mika would have taken off for Italy. That’s a lot to bite off and throw out there but I believe it is true. And if that one thing had happened two years ago, where would the program be today?

Small touches and tweaks can lead to big things.

I can see Pope recruiting harder, trading continents for exits off I-15 and I-84; turning over more stones; having more conversations; just elevating the number of contacts, calls, visits and frequent-flier miles, be it to Brazil, France, Croatia, Spain, the Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania, Spain, Africa or Australia. I see him chasing the resources to have an established presence and contacts who will make face-to-face BYU influence worldwide. Not because it’s a lot of work, but because he wants to.

Pope says his staff will work 24/7 and that's a given.

Rose will always be known for his competitive fire, his ability to motivate his team and win, but what steam Rose kindled, Pope and a new staff have an opportunity to rev up the apparatus and more fully take advantage of BYU’s facilities, fan base, donor class, prospects and unique exposure on ESPN and BYUtv.

I see a Pope staff looking at Saint Mary’s or Wisconsin and saying that a system can create havoc; the shot clock doesn’t have to run down without a systematic offensive play executed at a high level.

I think BYU’s challenge to Pope is to take what Rose built and take it higher — be it skill development, better ball-sharing, better defense, scouting and game plans — and thus make it far harder for top players of the school's faith to go other places.

You do that by creating reasons to be in Provo. Pope is uniquely gifted for that because as a highly recruited high school athlete, he chose to go elsewhere. He knows the reasons why. He can speak to that.

Two immediate things to watch: April signing day and staff hires. Those are coming up within weeks if not days.

Ever since Pope was approached for the BYU job, a top item on his list and that of those who pitched him was who would he hire to run the gauntlet with him. No reasonable candidate will be ignored.

Stay tuned.

This could be a fun spring after all.