Could Mark Pope be heading to Kentucky?

Mark Pope may be the next head coach for the University of Kentucky.
Mark Pope in BYU's first-round exit to Duquesne
Mark Pope in BYU's first-round exit to Duquesne / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

It's been a long time coming, but with John Calipari's departure from his post as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, one of the most coveted positions in college basketball is now vacant for the first time in 15 years. Lexington has been the home of rumblings about Calipari's exit from the program for years now, with fans consistently feeling short-changed as high-level players would come and go without any significant success since the days of Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

Early tournament exits to St Peter's and Oakland have left a sour taste in the mouths of Kentucky faithful, and it was fair to ask if Calipari had hit his ceiling with the Wildcats. Firing a high-profile coach like Calipari is not an easy decision, but luckily for the UK athletic department, he made it easy for them to say goodbye as he suddenly accepted a job in Fayetteville, Arkansas to coach the Razorbacks.

Suddenly, the head coach position is vacant in one of college hoops' most historic programs--I doubt it will stay open for long.

Among several other prominent names, Mark Pope's has been thrown into the pot and mixed around with the rest of college basketball's most eligible. Coach Pope played college hoops in Lexington under Rick Pitino, who has been quick to praise the work Pope put into the BYU basketball program.

Mark Pope
Mark Pope calls out to his team in a comeback win over TCU / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Coach Pope's ties to the program are still strong. In a recent interview with the Field of 68, Pope stated the following about his alma mater:

"I love Kentucky. You don’t understand--I love Kentucky. Like, in my soul, I love Coach [Pitino] and I love Kentucky, and I’m trying to get a game with St. John’s so we can beat him. I would love to play Kentucky because I want to beat them. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them; I love them like crazy. I love them in my soul."

Mark Pope

Pope's tenure at BYU has had many highs, but a few unfortunate lows to pair. While the program has seen its greatest successes in decades under Coach Pope, several question marks remain. He is an energizer, and his players seem to love suiting up for him. Behind his leadership, the team has reached the NCAA Tournament twice (three times if it weren't for Covid), and his teams have finished in the AP Top 25 three times.

My shoulder devil has been pestering me to write this down, so here it goes: Coach Pope is still unproven in the postseason and will be outmatched by the resumes of the sport's greatest minds who will be gunning for this head coaching vacancy. Pope is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament and has never won a conference tournament, despite spending four seasons in the West Coast Conference.

Mark Pope
Mark Pope's passion on full display as he supports his team / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

If Kentucky is considering Pope, they're making a bet on his potential. He proved this season that his teams are prepared and capable of competing with the biggest and baddest teams in the nation as a BYU program expected to finish 13th in their first season of Big 12 play ended up in 5th, with wins over the conference's very best. If Pope were brought on at Kentucky, his roster's median talent level would surpass BYU's top-end. Considering what he accomplished in Provo, he may be the perfect candidate to usher in a fresh start in Lexington.

If Pope's alma mater was anywhere other than Kentucky, it's hard to imagine that he'd receive much consideration from other blue-blooded universities. Yes, he was a candidate for Big 12 Coach of the Year in his inaugural season, but without noteworthy success on the sport's highest stage, the Kentucky job is a longshot.

Beyond anything I've already said, I really don't want Pope to leave BYU right as things start rolling. New, exciting recruits are coming into Provo and for the first time in a while, Cougar Nation is excited about the direction the program is moving in. Seeing Pope's early departure could damage the program and kill any positive momentum propelling his team.

On top of all that, Coach Pope is the man that BYU needs to run the ship. BYU's pool of candidates is naturally limited, and I feel like they won the lottery by landing Pope. If Kentucky were to lure him to a home in Rupp Arena, they'd be lucky to have him.

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