Mark Pope left BYU basketball in a quandary.


He triggered a rock slide.

Pope’s dash for Kentucky’s pot of gold has triggered a frantic coaching search by administrators and Cougar players putting their names in the transfer portal in search of NIL deals.

BYU fans feel like they’ve witnessed a bank robbery, and they’re hostages locked in a basement storage room.

This is college basketball circa 2024.

Here’s a prediction about BYU’s next hire to lead the basketball program: Whoever is hired, many BYU fans will feel like Kentucky fans do this weekend. They will believe they deserve a better choice.

Well, that’s tough all the way around, but I bet they’ll both be pleased after time has passed.

The impending new BYU hire will almost certainly take on the same historical approach the university has had the past half-century. BYU has not hired an experienced, seasoned head coach with a known track record in Division I since LaDell Andersen in 1983.

Anderson came to BYU after leading Utah State from 1961-1971 and the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association from 1971-1973. Before that, BYU went the assistant coach route by hiring UCLA’s Frank Arnold, who had never been a Division I head coach.

This is what BYU does. The school looks to hire hungry, motivated up-and-comers who are searching for a chance to prove themselves.

In this regard, they have done very well. Just look at the Pope hire. BYU looked across town to Pope at Utah Valley and acquired a taste for him after he was an assistant coach to Dave Rose.

And what about Dave Rose?

Rose, who led BYU to four Mountain West Conference championships and six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, was a Steve Cleveland assistant in Provo after being the head coach at Dixie College (now Utah Tech). Prior to that, he was an assistant at Dixie. Before that he coached Millard High and was an assistant at Pine View High.

Rose ended up BYU’s winningest coach since Stan Watts and will be remembered for staging the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history in 2012 when his Cougars came back from 25 points down to beat Iona.

And what about Cleveland? Well, Cleveland is a guy who led BYU to a league postseason tournament title back in 2001. Yes, its been that long ago. Cleveland also led the Cougars to two Mountain West Conference championships, in 2001 and 2003.

BYU hired Cleveland from Fresno Community College. I once sat in Cleveland’s office in Fresno. It was the size of a big closet. Before that, Cleveland was the head coach at Clovis West High in Fresno from 1980-1990.

Cleveland is the coach BYU turned to after firing Roger Reid in 1995 and tossing the Dead Man Walking role to the late Tony Ingle for the remainder of the season.

Reid’s .667 win percentage was the highest of any BYU coach who held the reins more than two years. He was an assistant coach to Arnold and Andersen for a combined 11 years, as loyal a Cougar as one could find in the day.

Reid was hired after Andersen retired. Before he was a Cougar assistant coach, his only head coaching experience was at Payson and Clearfield high schools in Utah.

Reid led BYU to three WAC championships and five NCAA tournament appearances.

So, there’s a brand check here for BYU fans. Your next guy will likely be extremely ambitious and eager to be given a chance. He’s likely highly competitive, a former high-level athlete in his day and an assistant coach at a current Division I school or junior college.

Your school does not chase down and sign experienced Division I head coaches to come to Provo. It does not lure away a head coach from a power program and negotiate with his agent to match competing offers from other schools.

But you could say, if Pope, Rose, Cleveland and Reid had had Kentucky or Duke caliber players on their rosters, BYU’s NCAA Tournament success over the years would be significantly better, even impressive.

They all proved to be outstanding coaches who developed talent and pushed players to overachieve and they led BYU to championships and NCAA Tournament berths and all have stories of winning big games.

This is Pope’s story at BYU, now on to Kentucky.

And likely the path for Pope’s replacement.

This is BYU’s coaching heritage.

It will be a hard swallow for Kentucky fans with the Blue Blood DNA straining as the Pope pill goes down, but it shouldn’t be difficult for BYU fans looking at the next hire.

This is who you are.

While Utah assistant coach Chris Burgess is certainly on the short list, as is UNLV assistant Barret Peery, don’t be surprised if BYU gives a glance at Lehi High School coach and former BYU assistant Quincy Lewis, fresh off another state title.

High school? Really?

Let’s take a look at some head-scratching hires of high school coaches. UConn just won a second national title with Dan Hurley, who took a head coaching job at Wagner out of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, although he did previously have assistant coaching experience at Rutgers and was the head coach at Rhode Island in between his time at Wagner and getting hired by UConn.

The legendary John Wooden of UCLA dynasty fame was hired by Indiana State right out of his job at South Bend Central High School. After serving two years in the Navy during World War II, he went to UCLA after finishing his time at Indiana State.

John Thompson, the first African American to win a NCAA championship at Georgetown, was hired directly from his job at St. Antony High School in Washington, D.C.

Bob McKillop, a coach at Lutheran High School in Long Island, New York was hired as head coach at Davidson and won 595 games, making nine NCAA Tournaments in 31 seasons (he had been an assistant at Davidson prior to going to Lutheran).

More recently, Bucky McMillan came to be head coach at Samford in 2020 after 12 years at Mountain Brook High near Birmingham, Alabama. His team was the No. 13 seed in the Delta Center in the NCAA Tournament’s first round this year and made a comeback from 22 points down only to lose to Kansas 93-89 in one of the most exciting games of March.

Holy Cross hired Jack Donahue as head coach out of Power Memorial High in New York, where he coached Lew Alcindor.

The real key to college recruiting isn’t where you came from, but how well you recruit and sell yourself and the program to talented players. In the era of NIL, is has become far more complicated, but also is easier to assemble a team fast with promises of playing time and coin (see Utah State this last season).

A coach must know the game and have assistants who are workhorses and recruiters. Will BYU be able to find the right fit? Probably. Will it erase disappointment over Pope bolting for Lexington? Probably not.

But history says the hire will grow on Cougar Nation. Chances are BYU’s administration is fully acquainted with potential candidates, so much so they hardly have to have in-depth interviews. It’s just pulling out a file from a drawer.

The future man’s task is daunting. He must recruit Pope’s roster, add key components in the transfer portal and keep existing committed recruits on board while preparing for Big 12 play.

Who is that guy?

It’ll be better to find out sooner than later, like this week.

The guy has to be hungry, almost starved for a chance to prove himself.

And it will help if he’s loyal as a Labrador.