Eye on the Y: Mark Pope won his news conference, but winning basketball games will be much more difficult for Cougars’ new coach

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Pope takes questions from the media after being announced as BYU's new head basketball coach during a press event at the BYU broadcasting building on Wed. April 10, 2019.

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It was part news conference, part pep rally.

BYU’s newest men’s basketball coach, Mark Pope, was introduced to the media and everyone else Wednesday afternoon at a made-for-BYUtv event at the BYU Broadcasting Building, and the former Utah Valley coach made a lot of lofty promises and received a lot of applause.

Whether the exuberant and ever-enthusiastic 6-foot-10 Pope can deliver more than what retired coach Dave Rose was able to accomplish remains to be seen. Anything less will be viewed as a disappointment, but Pope takes the job knowing it is a more difficult job than the one Rose accepted 14 years ago.

Pope won the news conference, as people like to say, but have you ever read reports of a coach losing one?

“This place is like nowhere else,” Pope said after receiving a big ovation when athletic director Tom Holmoe introduced him. “It is a beacon on a hill. … There is a standard of excellence here in everything that happens on this campus.”

Folks ate it up.

Credit Pope for knowing that expectations are high at BYU, perhaps too high given the Cougars’ current lot in the college sports landscape. He mentioned several times that he wouldn’t want it any other way. He said he doesn’t like to deal with reality, which is why he is involved in sports.

“Certainly there is a standard of excellence that has been set with this basketball program, and incredibly high expectations, and that is one of the most enticing things to me about taking over this position, are those high expectations and the way we will be able to embrace them,” he said.

Pope said he will “schedule really, really aggressively” and “we will be fearless in everything we do. We will take our lumps and we will jump back off the mat and with confidence go on to the next battle.”

So he talks a big game. That was to be expected, after watching him operate at UVU the past four years. He famously scheduled back-to-back games at Kentucky and Duke one year, after all.

“We will be wholehearted — that’s an important word — we will be wholehearted in everything we do,” he said. “We will be relentless every minute, every day, 24-7, chasing excellence on this team. Relentless. And we will be together. In all those ways, it will be our goal to represent this university and this community in a way that all of us are going to be extraordinarily proud of. My deal is, think about what you think we can’t do as a program. Think about it, let me know. And that’s what we are going to go do. That’s what we are going to get done.”

Here’s my report from the news conference, while Tribune columnist Gordon Monson weighed in on Pope as well.

I caught up with the three recruits that Rose signed last November, and all three seem to be on board with Pope getting the job.

Football wrap-ups

Spring football wrapped up a few weeks ago, but there are always plenty of storylines to explore with coach Kalani Sitake’s crew. Here’s a look at the competition to be the starting place-kicker — a duel between sophomores Skyler Southam and Jake Oldroyd — and here’s more on the situation at linebacker as the Cougars hope and pray that starters Zayne Anderson and Isaiah Kaufusi return healthy after offseason surgeries.


There’s always a lot of talk about BYU having limited choices for its head coaches because those coaches who lead programs must be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But athletic director Tom Holmoe was pleased with the quality of the candidates who were interested in the men’s basketball opening.

“There were some super candidates,” Holmoe said. “They had qualities that were superb. [Mark Pope] had the most and the best. I really think that he just stood out as the one that was the right coach for this job. Then I went to President [Worthen] and he took it from there. I don’t go to Salt Lake [to get LDS Church headquarters approval]. He does all that.”

Around campus

• BYU’s extremely successful women’s volleyball program was honored twice at the Governor’s State of Sport Awards on Wednesday night as senior outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry received Utah’s Collegiate Female Athlete of the Year award while head coach Heather Olmstead was given the Female Head Coach of the Year award. Jones-Perry was a first-team All-American, a national player of the year finalist, and the AVCA South Pacific Player of the Year. Olmstead, in her fourth season last year, led the Cougars to a No. 1 national ranking for 11 straight weeks and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.

Seven senior BYU football players were honored by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame earlier this week with induction into the NFF Hampshire Honor Society. The players maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or better in their careers. BYU and Vanderbilt tied for the most honorees in the FBS. BYU’s honorees included running backs Brayden El-Bakri and Matt Hadley, linebackers Adam Pulsipher and Riggs Powell, defensive back/holder Gavin Fowler, punter Rhett Almond and offensive lineman Austin Hoyt. Pulsipher was also a semifinalist for the 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy.

• The BYU baseball team’s chance for revenge over Utah was cancelled on Tuesday as rainy, snowy weather forced the postponement of the Utah-BYU game at Miller Park in Provo. The Cougars (8-4, 22-8) will host Pepperdine at 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday at Miller Park. Meanwhile, BYU senior right fielder Brock Hale is one of 10 finalists for the 2019 Senior CLASS Award in collegiate baseball.

• BYU’s men’s volleyball team lost a tough five-set match at Grand Canyon last Saturday and will have to travel for the MPSF tournament. The fifth-seeded Cougars (12-11, 6-6 MPSF) play at fourth-seeded Stanford (15-10, 6-6) on Saturday night because the Cardinal own the tiebreaker, having won five sets to BYU’s four in head-to-head matches. BYU will have to win three consecutive matches to get back to the NCAA Tournament.