Kentucky Officially Makes Surprising Coaching Hire

By Jason Hall

April 12, 2024

Georgetown v Kentucky
Photo: Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team have officially hired alumnus and former BYU head coach Mark Pope on Friday (April 12), UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in a statement shared on the Wildcats' official website

Pope, 51, played for the Wildcats from 1994 to 1996, which included winning the 1996 NCAA national championship, after transferring from Washington. The UK alum has a 187-108 overall coaching record, which includes a 110-52 (10-8 WCC/Big 12) record during five seasons at BYU and a 77-56 (34-24 WAC) record during four seasons at Utah Valley.

“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” Barnhart said. “As a captain on the ‘96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.

“He fully embraces our high expectations and standards and I know that as our fans get reacquainted with Mark, they will be eager to join him on what promises to be an exciting ride.”

Pope reportedly agreed to a five-year deal paying an average average salary of $5.5 million, according to CBS Sports Matt Norlander.

Kentucky's sudden coaching vacancy came hours after reports that head coach John Calipari was "finalizing" a deal to become the next head coach at Arkansas, which had since been officially completed prior to Calipari being introduced on Wednesday (April 10). The agreement was made possible by Calipari's long-standing ties to longtime Arkansas benefactor John H. Tyson.

Calipari went 410-122 (198-65 SEC) during 15 seasons at Kentucky, which included winning the 2012 NCAA national championship, as well as six SEC regular season and six SEC tournament titles. The 65-year-old has an 813-260 overall record as a collegiate head coach, which includes stints with the Massachusetts Minutemen (1988-96) and Memphis Tigers (2000-2009).

Calipari will replace former Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, who accepted the head coaching position with the USC Trojans on Thursday (April 4).

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