Who could replace Mark Pope at BYU? A few coaching candidates stand out early

With head coach Mark Pope headed to Kentucky, who will AD Tom Holmoe turn to next?

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes assistant coach Chris Burgess reacts as the Utah Utes players storm the court after defeating the Brigham Young Cougars at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is making a coaching hire in the middle of April.

On Friday morning, Mark Pope officially accepted the head coaching job at Kentucky.

“We want to thank Coach Pope for all that he has given to the BYU men’s basketball program in his nine years here as an assistant and head coach,” Holmoe said said in a statement. “His unique combination of passion, dedication, creativity and excitement has inspired our BYU community. He led our team to a very successful inaugural Big 12 season, and left the program in a position of strength moving forward. There is a lot for Cougar Nation to be excited about right now.”

It is not an ideal time to be looking for your next leader. Most coaches already have a home.

But the good news, if there is any, is that BYU’s coaching search was always going to be limited. Even if Pope left a month earlier, the candidates would likely be the same for Holmoe. At BYU, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the men’s basketball coach will likely be a member of the church. That limits the number of candidates.

Here are the strengths, and weaknesses, of some top candidates who should be on BYU’s list.

Notably, Cal head coach Mark Madsen took his name out of the running Friday morning. The former Utah Valley head coach would’ve been the ideal candidate to take over for Pope.

Chris Burgess

If BYU fans care about where prized recruit Collin Chandler goes, Chris Burgess’ whereabouts might be important to know.

Burgess was on Pope’s staff for several years when the Cougars recruited Chandler. The current Utah assistant coach was a key recruiter in getting the four-star to sign with BYU.

Now Chandler is set to come back from his LDS Mission this summer. He will have a choice: stay committed to BYU or reopen his recruitment and possibly follow Pope to Kentucky.

With Burgess as the head coach, at least BYU would have a relationship with Chandler that might encourage him stay.

But it’s not that easy. Does BYU want to make a head coaching decision based on keeping one player committed?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Burgess as Utah hosts Colorado, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

Still, Burgess is an LDS Church member and has long been rumored to be a head coaching prospect for BYU. He’s been an assistant at Utah Valley, BYU and now Utah for the last two years.

The knock on Burgess is he’s never been a head coach. Would throwing him to the fire of the Big 12 be too much to handle?

Barret Peery

If a lack of head coaching experience is a knock on Burgess, how about current UNLV assistant Barret Peery?

He’s been a head coach at several stops, including most recently at Portland State. And he has Big 12 experience. After working as a head coach, he took an associate head coaching job at Texas Tech in 2021.

(Jeff Chiu | AP) Then-Portland State head coach Barret Peery yells to his players during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against California in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.

Peery knows Utah. He was born in Payson, just down the road from Provo. He played at Snow College and Southern Utah. He coached at Utah, Utah Valley, SUU and Snow.

Of course, Peery won’t come with the same name recognition or cachet as Mark Madsen. But he is a college basketball lifer who has been in the business since 1995.

If experience is the key identifier, Peery might be a top option.

Alex Jensen

Jensen is not a likely option, but should at least get a phone call.

The current Dallas Mavericks assistant is from Bountiful and played at Utah. He spent years with the Utah Jazz before heading to Texas.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Jensen, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) as the Utah Jazz host the Sacramento Kings, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 12, 2022.

Jensen coached at Saint Louis under former Utah coach Rick Majerus for a couple of years. But getting an NBA coach to step into the college ranks is more difficult than ever. With the transfer portal, NIL and the grueling scheduling, NBA life might be better for Jensen. Jensen was reportedly in the mix for the opening at his alma mater, Utah, a few years ago. But if he wants to be a head coach, and BYU is interested, maybe he will consider it now.

KC Beard

Behind Kelvin Sampson’s highly successful run at Houston, KC Beard has been an assistant coach. He started back in 2014 and has been through the Final Fours, AAC championships and now a Big 12 title.

That should tick a lot of boxes for BYU.

Beard briefly worked for the Jazz and Trail Blazers. He got his start at SMU as a video coordinator.

Beard has no head coaching experience. But on BYU’s current list, with Madsen uninterested, that should be less of a deterrent.

If BYU goes the assistant route, Burgess is still likely the top candidate. But Beard is as qualified as any.

Lee Cummard

Holmoe has a history with out-of-the-box hires. He signed Amber Whiting, a former high school coach, to lead his women’s basketball team.

So a Lee Cummard hire could be in play.

Cummard is currently Whiting’s assistant on the women’s basketball side. He spent his entire coaching career at BYU, bouncing around from the men’s and women’s team.

Cummard played at BYU, becoming one of the best players in the Mountain West. Again, he doesn’t have head coaching experience and hasn’t really been anywhere except BYU, but it might be a wildcard for Holmoe.