Mark Pope to Kentucky.

The news went over like a lead balloon in Lexington and Provo.

In Lexington, they aren’t used to having their basketball coaching job turned down a myriad times and be handed to a coach who was one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament in March.

In Provo, fans loved Pope, he was their man. He had personality, a dream and he could recruit. They adopted the former Washington and Kentucky player as one of their own and expected he’d be around next season.

But really folks, who shouldn’t be happy for Pope, a semifinalist for the national coach of the year after an impressive first season in the Big 12 with a win at Kansas and wins over half a dozen teams that went deep in the Big Dance.

Pope’s team defeated North Carolina State, which was in this year’s Final Four and San Diego State, which played for the national championship in 2023.

This is a huge opportunity for Pope.

At Kentucky, he’ll have something he did not have at BYU: unlimited resources, and out-of-sight NIL.

Kentucky is a dream job for a former player like Pope. I bet his old Kentucky coach Rick Pitino burned up the phone lines selling him to Kentucky’s administration and boosters.

In Lexington, a place that draws 20,000-plus fans at Rupp Arena for Midnight Madness, Pope will gain another passionate fan base to give him all the emotional fuel he can handle — both good and bad.

If he thought Cougarboard could get nasty with the second-guessing and criticism, in Lexington, he’ll encounter a nuclear level of fan engagement.

Pope knows this.

And he’s taking it all on.

Good for Pope.

He will do very well at Kentucky — far better than Wildcat fans expect.


Because he did very well at BYU, especially this past season in the Big 12 with a win over Baylor, a win at Kansas, a win against Iowa State, and a chance to beat Houston in the final minute in Provo.

It is far easier for Pope to recruit at Kentucky than at BYU with its honor code, entrance requirements and academics.

Pope recruited and signed four-star Collin Chandler from Farmington High in Utah, who is expected to return from his two-year church mission in a few weeks. Chandler is the highest-ranked recruit in school history at a school with two Naismith Award Winners in Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredette and a Hall of Famer in Kresimir Cosic.

At Kentucky, Pope can get 10 Chandlers. Oh, they may be one-and-done players, but he will get in the homes, sell Kentucky and get his share of top talent — he is that good of a salesman when his heart is set on the product he’s peddling. And Pope’s heart is set on his Wildcat blood and roots.

As good as John Calipari and Rick Pitino are with media interviews and press rooms, Kentucky fans will find that Pope is more entertaining. He is articulate, sometimes over the top in his enthusiasm, and extremely insightful in how he breaks down challenges, players and games. It will be refreshing for them, and they really don’t know much about this right now.

Mark Pope put one of the most entertaining teams in the country on the floor this past season, a squad that ranked near the top in 3-point shooting in attempts and makes. They played hard, Pitino-style defense and they put relentless effort into rebounding.

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Pope creates, expects and demands what he calls “the best locker room in America” in that he expects his players to leave their personal agendas aside and focus on what is best for the team. This year Jaxson Robinson was BYU’s best player, and leading scorer and he CAME OFF THE BENCH.

Robinson was the Big 12′s Sixth Man Award winner.

Who gets a superstar to do that?

Pope did.

Pope should be credited for his work at BYU and the players he brought in, be it Robinson, a four-star transfer from Arkansas, or Aly Khalifa, a native of Egypt who was the best 7-foot passer in the NCAA this past year.

Pope has a vision and his enthusiasm for his job stands out at a wattage level that’s rare in the coaching profession.

Wildcat fans aren’t familiar with this, but they will be.

They’ll also learn that in Pope’s wife Lee Anne, they’ll have an astute team mother and coach’s wife who is involved and beloved. She used to work for David Letterman behind the scenes. She will do magic in the hallways of Rupp Arena.

The Pope Era in Provo will be remembered extremely positively, but way too short.

BYU fans should be grateful he made this stop on his way to Kentucky.

There are probably four or five jobs in the country that could lure Pope from BYU. Kentucky was at the top.

This is what happens when your coach is considered at the top.

Utah State averages one of these kinds of poaching losses every three years and this past year it was one season.

That the folks who made the decision in Lexington tapped Pope on the shoulder and called his name should be taken as an honor — your man was recruited and picked — he is considered that good.

In coming days, Kentucky faithful will see that a returning player, one of their beloved alums, will be far more to their liking than initial knee-jerk reactions.

If Pope had had Kentucky’s roster this year, they would have been in the Elite Eight instead of losing to Oakland.

There is no doubt in my mind.



With all Kentucky’s talent, Pope would have had it on a trajectory far different than Calipari did with things turning sour as his time in town came to an end.

So, why did BYU lose to Duquesne in the first round, you ask?

BYU was an overachieving, hardworking 23-11 team that impressed many in the toughest basketball league in the country, but simply ran out of gas in March.

In the first-round loss to Duquesne, BYU encountered a team that was on an eight-game winning streak that simply shot the ball better and physically got after a Cougar team coming off a disappointing loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. I don’t think the Cougars had come to terms with that defeat when they met Duquesne.

That wasn’t on Pope.

Pope’s BYU team, which was picked preseason to finish 13th in the Big 12 but finished fifth, didn’t have Kentucky’s talent. Not even close.

The margin for error in March was extremely thin for Pope’s BYU team, whose 6-foot-11 starting center needed knee surgery for months and was fasting for Ramadan. Khalifa’s backup was a 6-foot-6 center.

Pope is a very good coach.

Kentucky will do well with him if given a chance.

Thanks for the memories, Pope.

Good luck returning to your roots in a proud blue-blood program, where you once cut the nets as a national champion.

You know what it takes to get back up that ladder to cut it down again.

A week ago you were beloved by fans.

That day will come again soon.