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Dick Harmon: Pope's challenges in taking over BYU basketball comes with unique media demands

BYU introduces Mark Pope as its new men's basketball head coach at a press conference at the BYU Broadcast Building in Provo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
BYU introduces Mark Pope as its new men's head basketball coach at a press conference at the BYU Broadcast Building in Provo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — This week, Mark Pope walked from the closets of Adidas to the warehouses of Nike.

Those are the gear sponsors for Utah Valley University and BYU.

Two weeks ago, I was on a bus riding through the German countryside when our tour leader from east London told the story of the Dassler Brothers Sport Shoe Company and brothers Rudi and Adolf. They came to hate each other and they broke up and started separate shoe companies. Adolf, nicknamed Adi, began Adidas, and Rudi created Puma. Adi put American sprinter Jesse Owens in a pair of Adidas for the Olympics attended by Adolf Hitler before World War II. His brand really took off. Then Nike came along and swallowed up both brands as a worldwide marketing effort simply bulldozed the German-branded shoes.

I love Adidas shoes, shirts and golf pullovers. I owned some Puma track shoes while captain of the Provo High track team in the early '70s. They were stolen off the infield at a meet at Springville High one day.

But I digress.

Nike. BYU is a Nike school.

On Wednesday, BYU’s newly announced head basketball coach stood before a group of media and boosters in a studio in the BYU Broadcast Building. The event was aired live on BYUtv, which has a potential audience of over 60 million worldwide on most cable TV platforms, DirecTV and Dish Network satellite and on-demand through the internet. The next day, he went on that station’s BYU "Sports Nation," a program that is broadcast over satellite radio as well as BYUtv.

That night, his presser was featured on all the local television networks, from KUTV, KSL and KJZZ.

The morning after the broadcast announcing Pope’s hire, he found himself on The Zone Sports Network, a morning sports radio show in Salt Lake City where co-host Pat Kinahan told listeners Pope used to text him and ask to come on the show to get UVU some publicity.

Later that morning, Pope’s UVU assistant coach Chris Burgess was also interviewed at length by hosts Kinahan and David James. That afternoon, Burgess appeared on ESPN 960 with Ben Criddle, a locally produced radio show centered on BYU sports.

On Friday, Pope was interviewed by ESPN 700 sports radio. He will appear on ESPN 960 on Monday as well as a KSL Radio program.

In short, in a period of five days, Pope will have had more exposure to a larger audience — locally, nationally and internationally — than he had in all four years at UVU.

Pope hadn’t received this much focus since he played on Kentucky’s national championship team, or stops in the NBA.

And this is just his first week. Pope has yet to coach a game or receive reviews from the mob on Twitter, Instagram, internet message boards and the intense daily coverage that comes from about a dozen beat reporters, columnists and writers of letters to the editor, emails to his bosses and president and the university Board of Trustees. His judges are legion and his bosses are many.

But the thing is, Pope is built for this.

Right out of the chute, Pope manhandled his first presser at BYU. He was more at ease than about any major coach at the school that I can remember. He was affable, comfortable, spontaneous and emotional. He came out of almost shedding tears speaking of his goodbyes to his UVU squad to articulating his designs on BYU’s success. He transitioned better than Rick Pitino.

He laughed easily, said the right things, paid respect to his predecessor, Dave Rose, and saluted the right people, including his wife Lee Anne — who he said was the smartest, most beautiful and funny person he knew, predicting she would be a “gift” to BYU. The daughter of former Division I coach Lynn Archibald, Lee Anne has worked in New York City for ESPN and as personal assistant to David Letterman. She knows how to work a room.

Pope knows how to talk smack. He jokes easily. He can land soft punches with his words and deliver some that carry a lot of weight.

When Rose retired, he made a quip about how interesting it would be for the next guy to deal with the media through the thick and thin of the growing media world.

On Wednesday after his presser, Pope did a simple but interesting thing. He went around to every member of the media, shook their hands and thanked them for coming.

Personal touch.

Pope is in the Nike World now, where even a shoe blowout by an athlete making a cut is national headlines for days and days.

The Dassler brothers aren’t around to talk brand and manage the onslaught of the demands that will now come his way.


He’s at the center-court jump circle right now and the ball is about to be thrown in the air.

Is he ready?

Whether he is or not, it’s coming his way.