PROVO — Mark Pope can get himself into some trouble with his open and deadpan joking manner, and found that out quite early on after being hired as BYU's head basketball coach.
In a podcast interview with Andy Katz, Pope made an off-handed comment that Gonzaga was totally overrated, to which several people apparently missed the sarcasm.
“I mean, how could anybody make that comment seriously that had any type of brain?” Pope said. “But I got a lot of feedback for that, so I’m trying to be more careful.”
Pope related the story after making some initial sarcastic comments regarding the sometimes dirty game of recruiting that had at least this media member off-edge initially, as it's not the sort of comment you usually get from coaches.
“I don’t know if there’s any special sauce, but I do know that as soon as I get these kids — I get to know them — I start collecting dirt on them,” Pope said of why he's been a successful recruiter. “I’m like an FBI guy — I got them. They’re stuck. I used to go toward the bags of cash, but I can't do that here anymore because it’s more high-profile here … that kind of sarcasm gets me in trouble.”
But that's who Pope is, and it's a refreshing change up from the predictable coach-speak offered by too many coaches.
He also trends toward self-deprecating commentary.
When asked about meeting with current West Coast Conference coaches, Pope expressed how much he admires all of them while stating, "They were so happy because they were like, ‘We know this dude can’t coach. So we got a couple of wins. We’re happy this guy rolled in here. But actually I know these guys and these coaches have been really generous to me over the years.”
Both characteristics provide insight as to why he's been successful and why recruits, current players and yes, even media members can relate to him. In short, he creates a comfortable atmosphere and has a habit of talking very openly and often, as evidenced with his holding a rare early June offseason press conference.
During the press conference Pope spoke earnestly of the need to relate to players, and how the primary focus for him and his coaching staff is to develop trust and confidence in the process. However, he lent a lot of the success in this regard to his assistants.
“My staff is really good,” Pope said. “They’re really growing relationships with these players quickly and that’s really important. Right now it’s so vital that we put capital in the bank with these young men. It’s just the way it works now. It’s how you coach now, because when you get into the season it is so hard and we are so incredibly demanding.”
Pope's current staff consists of Cody Fueger and Chris Burgess — two coaches he brought with him from Utah Valley — along with Nick Robinson.
So what's the message Pope and his assistants are working to leave with the players?
“To gain a real belief in their soul that we are their biggest fans and that we want this every bit as much as they do — for their own personal and team success — it’s really important,” Pope answered. “There’s no shortcut to that. It’s just time, and it’s teaching, and sharing, and being vulnerable with these guys. … My assistants are great at this.”