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Kentucky to hire Mark Pope: BYU coach, 1996 Wildcats player agrees to take over for John Calipari

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Kentucky is set to hire BYU coach Mark Pope to become its next men’s basketball coach, sources told CBS Sports. The two sides quickly engaged on Thursday afternoon, in the hours after Baylor’s Scott Drew and UConn’s Dan Hurley both turned down Kentucky’s overtures. Barring an unforeseen event that changes plans, Kentucky is pacing toward getting an agreement on paper with Pope before the end of Thursday night, a source said.

Pope has been offered a five-year deal at an average of $5.5 million per season, before incentives, sources said. Pope is poised to replace John Calipari, who on Tuesday officially left for Arkansas after 15 years in Lexington.

The pick was not the obvious or expected one, even as late as Thursday evening. That’s on account of Kentucky’s historical standing in the sport.

Pope is a Kentucky alumnus, however. He played on the famed 1995-96 championship team and has long coveted an opportunity to one day return to his alma mater. He has nine years of head coaching experience in D-I: four at Utah Valley, the past five at BYU. His career record is 187-108, with a 110-52 mark at BYU. Pope is 0-2 all time in the NCAA Tournament. He guided the Cougars to a No. 6 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament but fell in the first round to Duquesne.

Pope won out over other hot names, including Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino. Sources told CBS Sports that, despite Pitino and Donovan being buzzy names attached to Kentucky as potential candidates, neither were aggressively pursued by UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart. The event that opened the door all the way for Pope was when Hurley definitively signaled he wasn’t an option. 

The 51-year-old Pope is a high-energy hire who had the backing and support of some former players, in addition to being Barnhart’s favored choice in his secondary candidate list. Pope runs a fun system on the floor; his BYU teams finished top-20 at KenPom in three of his five seasons there. He overhauled his roster strategy and offensive philosophy this past season as well, which led to 23 wins and a top-15 offense in college basketball. 

Pope would join Joe B. Hall as the only men’s basketball coaches — dating back to Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp in 1930 — to play for Kentucky and go on to coach the program. For Pope, it’s a true dream job situation. An official announcement is expected Friday, once Barnhart signs off on the contract.

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