New Utah Jazz owners will ‘blow it up to epic proportions,’ says their good friend BYU coach Mark Pope
BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and new Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith are neighbors in Utah County and have been close friends the past decade or so.
Like a lot of Utah Jazz fans, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope was a bit surprised when Gail Miller announced Wednesday that she was selling the NBA franchise to local tech titan Ryan Smith and his wife, Ashley.
But Pope, who is entering his second season as the Cougars’ head coach next month, did not have to Google Smith’s name to learn more about him.
Pope and his wife, Lee Anne, are close friends with the Smiths and live in the same neighborhood in Orem.
“I mean, they are going to blow it up to epic proportions, and they are going to represent the state in such an extraordinary way.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope on the new owners of the Utah Jazz, Ryan and Ashley Smith
“I do know Ryan and Ashley and, I mean, come on, how blessed are we in the state of Utah to have this legendary family like the Millers being stewards over this program, and then have Ryan and Ashley Smith take over the deal?” Pope said Thursday in his weekly press briefing with reporters who cover BYU basketball. “I mean, they are going to blow it up to epic proportions, and they are going to represent the state in such an extraordinary way.”
Ryan Smith, a BYU graduate and the co-founder and CEO of Provo-based Qualtrics, was instrumental in persuading Pope to leave his job two years ago at Utah Valley University and replace Dave Rose as coach of the Cougars.
Asked what impact Smith’s purchase of a reported 80% interest in the Utah Jazz will have on BYU’s program — of which he is a substantial donor — Pope said he has “no idea.”
But the Cougars’ coach is already predicting big things for the Jazz, while also praising the work done by the the Miller family, which owned the club for 35 years.
“It is beyond extraordinary what the Millers have done with the Jazz over the last (35) years,” Pope said. “And then, I mean, I can’t imagine anybody doing it better for the state of Utah than Gail and Larry did.”
Pope — who grew up in Washington, played college basketball at Kentucky and went to medical school in New York for a couple years after his nine-year career in professional basketball — said he was a “distant fan” of the Jazz before moving to Utah when he joined Rose’s staff nearly 10 years ago.
He reiterated what Gail Miller said Wednesday: that she would not have sold the team to just anybody and the Smiths would become good stewards over the state treasure.
“This Utah Jazz, an incredibly visible mouthpiece and representative of the state of Utah, I do know that Ryan really cares about the state and he is an extraordinary human being, and obviously Ryan and Ashley’s accomplishments speak for themselves,” Pope said. “So it is a great day for the state of Utah, and it is a great day for the NBA, and it is a great day for the Utah Jazz.
“This NBA franchise has been run in such an epic fashion by the Miller family, and now to be passed on to the Smiths is such a good deal. It couldn’t get any better,” he continued.
Gail Miller will continue to have a minority stake in the team, while the Smiths become the majority owners. The Deseret News reported Wednesday that the deal — which also includes the NBA G League affiliate Salt Lake City Stars, Vivint Arena and “management” of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees baseball club — was worth $1.6 billion.