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Dick Harmon: Mark Pope? Alex Jensen? Or someone else? As BYU zeros in on candidates to replace Dave Rose, twists and subplots are aplenty

BYU basketball players stand during player introductions prior to game against Saint Mary’s.
BYU basketball players stand during player introductions prior to game against Saint Mary's. The Cougars prevailed, 92-71.
Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

PROVO — The fun part of BYU’s next hire to lead its basketball program is weighing the drama, politics and motivations with the history, expectations and reality of the hire.

It is intriguing that among candidate names being thrown about are experienced Division I coaches Mark Pope at Utah Valley (considered by many the early front-runner) and Portland State’s Barret Peery. It is very interesting that NBA staffers like Alex Jensen of the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Kevin Young, and L.A. Lakers assistant Mark Madsen may be in the mix. Dave Rose assistant Quincy Lewis and Dixie State’s Jon Judkins are also among the names being bandied about. The Athletic's Tony Jones tweeted out Monday that Jensen interviewed with BYU over the weekend.

When the coach with the highest winning percentage in school history has stepped down and many Cougar fans seem eager for a change, just how attractive is the BYU job?

Is it easier to win a conference title and get into the NCAA Tournament at Utah Valley or BYU these days? Is it easier to enroll recruits at Portland State and Utah Valley than at BYU? How many programs receive as much TV exposure as BYU? Is a BYU job a lifetime dream job for the prospective candidate, or a stepping stone to something bigger, say in the Southeastern Conference? Is it a destination job like it was for Rose? Or today, is it viewed as a cul-de-sac?

Which of these candidates would pledge to be at BYU for at least five years? Which would shy away from making that commitment?

These are the questions I’ve come across during the past 48 hours as I’ve queried a lot of folks connected to the process.

The more phone calls and conversations I have, the more interesting this hire becomes.

I also polled BYU fans Tuesday at a speaking engagement at in Orem and it was interesting that many in that audience agreed that if BYU does not hire Pope or Jensen, two of the favorites, they’d be sorely disappointed.

Is that fair to a guy like Lewis, the current interim coach, or Peery, Judkins, Young or Madsen?

If it is Jensen, a surging candidate in popularity, would he be a BYU guy as a former Ute and stick around through several of BYU’s strange recruiting cycles with missionaries, or quickly answer a call from his alma mater if the current coach left?

How long has it been since guys like Jensen, Young and Madsen actually recruited in the home of a high school player like Pope, Peery, Judkins and Lewis have been doing intensely at present?

Who would Rose prefer if asked and his vote counted heavily?

After all the smoke clears and, say, Lewis is hired. Is he a sexy enough candidate to fire up BYU fans? And is that fair when he hasn’t been given a chance to prove he is his own man with his own style?

One thing I believe could be true is the longer the process lasts, the more likely the new hire will not be Pope or Jensen.

Does Pope’s camp believe he’s more valuable than a return to BYU? It might serve him well to see what happens in the domino game of coaching about to go down with an opening at UCLA that could bring open jobs at TCU or Cincinnati, and other postings at Arkansas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and others. And remember, since Arizona and LSU are under FBI investigation, anything could happen with musical chairs among Pope’s peers when the hammer hits.

If these guys really want to be the BYU basketball coach, and their advisers are counseling them to take it, I believe the school is prepared to make it happen with a comfortable salary and all the perks.

And if that’s the case, this should be wrapped up by next week.

This process, while nobody wants to rush a decision, pretty much has to wind itself down soon because of an approaching first day of signing for national letters of intent. There are junior college and graduate transfers in the NCAA portal to be locked down and they aren’t going to hang on long without knowing who is heading the program. Unless they are die-hard BYU stock.

And that’s another issue. Which of these candidates is anxious and capable of going outside the low-hanging fruit of the die-hard BYU stock and freshen up the roster with more diverse talent, and give it a different vibe?

And is that what’s needed?

The bottom line is this hire could go a lot of different directions and since the Jensen interview, it has become more complicated and intriguing by the day.

My question is this: Are BYU fans prepared to balance expectations with the realities that coaching peers throughout the country see in this job with its unique atmosphere and recruiting pool?

Is it that great of a prize? It seems to be for the right guys who want it more than anything.

Because, in my opinion, an effective recruiter is more important than the guy who is filled with lovable, adorable charm. It also trumps Xs and Os and skill development. If you don’t have a guy who can bring the thoroughbreds to the race, it's pretty tough to win the derby by just teaching a technique to a good-looking plug.

And that’s with all due respect to the discipline and precision of Saint Mary’s.

The ability to deliver talent will impact the program far more than winning people over at the press conference or postgame interview.

I think the candidate pool is very good.

But I tend to see the glass half full.