PROVO, Utah (AP) — Mark Pope is returning to BYU as the Cougars’ new head coach with the task of elevating a program that hasn’t earned an NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.
The school announced Wednesday that it was naming Pope to replace Dave Rose, who retired in March after 14 seasons at the helm of the Cougars program. Pope was an assistant under Rose from 2011 to 2015 before leaving to take the top job at Utah Valley.
He emerged as the leading candidate at BYU after his successful stint at Utah Valley, where he compiled a 77-56 record over four seasons. Pope led Utah Valley to CBI Tournament appearances in each of his final three seasons with the school. He also had stints as an assistant coach at Georgia and Wake Forest.
“This place is like nowhere else,” Pope said. “It is a beacon on a hill and it is such an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to be the head men’s basketball coach here at BYU. I couldn’t be more proud or more excited. There is a standard of excellence here in everything that happens on this campus.”
Pope plans to recruit and schedule aggressively at BYU. He faces the expectations of trying to raise up a program that hasn’t won a conference title since joining the West Coast Conference in 2011 and hasn’t earned an NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.
“We’ll be fearless in everything we do,” Pope said. “We’ll take our lumps and we’ll jump back off the mat and, with confidence, go on to the next battle. Our team will be a team that’s not afraid of failure.”
Pope was a member of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team, He played two seasons with the Wildcats after transferring to the school from Washington. He earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in 1992 after setting a freshman single-season record with 8.1 rebounds per game in his debut season for the Huskies.
After graduating from Kentucky, Pope was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 1996 NBA draft. The 6-foot-10 center played seven seasons in the league with the Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and Denver Nuggets.
“There was a good pool of candidates for this job,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “I really think he just stood out as the one who was the right coach for this job.”