Mark Pope at Kentucky? Here’s why it would make sense, and why it wouldn’t.

With John Calipari on the move, could the BYU coach be in the mix to head back to his alma mater? The chances are low but his name will be mentioned.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Pope as BYU hosts University of Central Florida, NCAA basketball in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

In a long chain reaction that started with SMU firing Rob Lanier after a 20-win season, Kentucky is now looking for its next head coach.

If that sentence doesn’t make any sense, bear with us for a second.

SMU fired Lanier two weeks ago, opening the door for the Mustangs to hire USC coach Andy Enfield. USC turned around and poached Arkansas coach Eric Musselman. And now the Razorbacks are hiring John Calipari away from Kentucky.

Could the next domino be BYU’s coach Mark Pope heading back to Lexington?

At the moment, it feels unlikely. But Pope’s name will be mentioned as Kentucky finds its new leader.

Let’s examine why Pope makes sense as a candidate for one of the sport’s premier jobs, and why he doesn’t.

For it

After BYU knocked off Baylor this year, Pope stood in the back hallway of the Marriott Center and was almost at a loss for words talking about his old college coach Rick Pitino.

The ex-Kentucky coach congratulated his former player on beating the Bears that night.

Pope told The Salt Lake Tribune, “I love that man. Like, he changed me as a person. I don’t know — he doesn’t hand out compliments all the time.”

All that is to say, Pope’s attachment to his alma mater runs deep — very deep.

It makes sense. He won a national title there in 1996 and was a captain for Pitino’s Wildcats.

Throughout his coaching career, Pitino kept in touch. He visited Provo and stayed in Pope’s house. Pope publicly wanted to schedule Iona, when Pitino coached there, and St. John’s now that Pitino took over the Johnnies.

So, from Pope’s side, the Kentucky opening will be of interest.

The question is, how much would the Wildcats want Pope? That part is trickier.

While there are more high-profile candidates, Pope has some recent accolades to tout. He just rebuilt BYU’s entire program the last two years and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021.

He did all of that in a job with significantly fewer resources than Kentucky — and in the most difficult conference in the country.

Hiring within the Kentucky family is never a bad idea for a fanbase trying to move on from Calipari.

Plus, Pope has a rich basketball resume that has allowed him to learn alongside some of the game’s best. He played for Larry Bird on the Indiana Pacers. They went to game seven against Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. He played under George Karl for a few years on the Milwaukee Bucks. In a brief stint with the New York Knicks, Michael Malone was the video coordinator. He is now Denver’s coach and just won an NBA title.

Pope does have some SEC experience. He was the director of operations at Georgia under Mark Fox.

Against it

While Pope’s name could appear on some lists, he will be under all the heavyweights in the sport.

Kentucky hires big names, and it has the resources to do it.

Calipari came from Memphis, where he went to the national title game with Derrick Rose. He earned a one- or two-seed four years in a row. Pitino was hired from the New York Knicks and took Providence to the Final Four.

Pope is yet to win a single game in the tournament as a coach.

No coach at Kentucky has been hired without some tournament success. You have to go back to the man who replaced Adolph Rupp’s — the namesake of Kentucky’s arena — to get a coach with a lack of tournament wins. And that was only because the Wildcats named Rupp’s assistant, Joe Hall, to succeed the Hall of Famer in 1972.

Beyond that, Pope’s high-major experience is light. He has just one season in the Big 12 — although he authored six, 20-win seasons in the WCC and the WAC.

Still, that resume will be smaller than the tournament warriors Kentucky is bound to reach out to.

Alabama’s Nate Oats, who just went to the Final Four, has been mentioned. Baylor’s Scott Drew, who won a national title, has too.

Pope won’t be at the top of the food chain.