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Kentucky hires Mark Pope: BYU coach, player on Wildcats’ 1995-96 national title team succeeds John Calipari

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Kentucky has hired BYU’s Mark Pope to become its next men’s basketball coach, the school announced Friday. Pope and Kentucky quickly engaged on Thursday in the hours after Baylor’s Scott Drew and UConn’s Dan Hurley both turned down Kentucky’s overtures. CBS Sports first reported the news.

Pope has signed five-year deal at an average of $5.5 million per season, before incentives, sources said. Pope replaces John Calipari, who on Tuesday officially left for Arkansas after 15 years in Lexington.

The pick was not the obvious or expected one on account of Kentucky’s historical standing in the sport. With Calipari leaving town, most anticipated the program to bring in a high-profile replacement with a résumé of NCAA Tournament success.

Pope is a Kentucky alumnus, however. He played for (and was a captain 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, though, a noticeable void nearly a decade into his career. 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 would-be candidates attached to Kentucky as potential successors to Calipari, 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 joins 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. A press conference to introduce Pope will be held Sunday at Rupp Arena. 

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