Kentucky turns to alum Pope to replace Calipari

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Mark Pope is officially Kentucky‘s new men’s basketball coach, the school announced Friday.

Pope was a captain on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team and has been the head coach at BYU for the past five seasons. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart opted for Pope after several high-profile candidates turned down the job or distanced themselves from the search.

“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” Barnhart said. “As a captain on the ’96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense, and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.

“He fully embraces our high expectations and standards, and I know that as our fans get reacquainted with Mark, they will be eager to join him on what promises to be an exciting ride.”

Kentucky did not disclose terms of the deal, but sources told ESPN on Thursday that the two sides were finalizing a five-year contract.

Pope replaces John Calipari, the Hall of Fame coach who left this week for the Arkansas Razorbacks after 15 seasons in Lexington. Calipari led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and the 2012 national championship.

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball. It’s the definition of blue-blood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year,” Pope said. “Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this university and the people of the commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.

“I’m thankful to [Dr. Eli Capilouto, UK president] and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach, and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope took BYU to two NCAA tournaments in five seasons, going 110-52 overall with the Cougars. In their first season in the Big 12 in 2023-24, they exceeded expectations, finishing tied for fifth in the league and going 23-11.

Before taking over at BYU in 2019, Pope was the coach at Utah Valley for four seasons. The Wolverines never won a regular-season title under Pope, but he went 48-21 in his final two seasons, going 22-8 in league play.

Pope doesn’t bring much high-level success, failing to win a regular-season or conference tournament championship during his nine seasons as a head coach. His teams also suffered upset losses in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing as a 6-seed facing an 11-seed both times — against UCLA in 2021 and vs. Duquesne last month.

After helping lead Kentucky to the national championship in 1996, Pope played for seven seasons in the NBA. He completed two years of medical school at Columbia University before joining Mark Fox’s staff at Georgia in 2009. Pope then spent one year as an assistant coach at Wake Forest and four years as an assistant coach under Dave Rose at BYU.

Kentucky and Barnhart pivoting to Pope on Thursday evening came after Baylor‘s Scott Drew and UConn‘s Dan Hurley turned down the job earlier in the day. Alabama‘s Nate Oats and former Villanova coach Jay Wright had previously announced they weren’t pursuing the job, and Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan said he was committed to his team and hadn’t had contact with Kentucky.

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