Mark Pope Named Head Coach of Kentucky Men’s Basketball

Contributed by UK Athletics

LEXINGTON, Ky. – When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced Friday.

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

“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 returns to UK from Provo, Utah, where he compiled a 110-52 record (.679) during five campaigns at the helm of BYU. He took the Cougars to three postseason appearances, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament, and missed another bid when the 2020 event was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three of his five BYU teams finished the season ranked in the top 20 of the Ken Pomeroy efficiency ratings. 

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball. It’s the definition of blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation ever year,” Pope said. “Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is coming off a 23-11 season in 2023-24. It was BYU’s first season in the Big 12 Conference and the Cougars’ 10-8 league record featured victories over No. 7 Kansas, No. 11 Baylor and No. 24 Iowa State. BYU’s first win in the Big 12, on January 13 at Central Florida, also marked Pope’s 100th victory as head coach of the Cougars.

The Cougars ranked third in the country with 11.1 made 3-pointers per game in 2023-24, and also ranked in the top 10 in assists per game (3rd) and assist-to-turnover ratio (6th). BYU led the Big 12 in scoring at 81.4 points per game. They were ranked as high as No. 12 in the AP Poll after going 12-1 in nonconference action, winning the Vegas Showdown, BYU’s first multi-team event title since 2011. Pope was named to the 2024 Naismith College Coach of the Year Late Season Watch List for his efforts.

Pope’s teams also hit the postseason in 2020-21, finishing with a 20-7 mark and making BYU’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. The Cougars were 24-11 in 2021-22 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The Cougars captured win No. 60 under Pope in January of ‘22, making him the fastest BYU coach to achieve the mark.

Pope began his head coaching stint at BYU in the 2019-20 season, tallying a 24-8 record, the most wins for a first-year coach in program history. He finished the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, becoming the first head coach at BYU to conclude the season with a national ranking in his first season. The Cougars finished second in the West Coast Conference with a 13-3 record. The Cougars also toppled No. 2-ranked Gonzaga, earning their best win over a ranked opponent inside their home venue in program history. The Covid pandemic prevented an almost-certain bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Pope’s Cougars were statistically among the top offenses in the nation in ’19-20. The Cougars finished the season ranked first in 3-point field goal percentage, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, third in field-goal percentage, fourth in 3-point field goals per game and fifth in assists per game.

Following his first season with the Cougars, Matt Norlander of CBS tabbed Pope as the best hire of the year. He was also awarded with the United States Basketball Writers Association District VIII Coach of the Year honor. He was a semifinalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year.

Pope’s first head coaching stint was a four-year term at Utah Valley. Beginning in 2015-16, the Wolverines increased their win total during every season of Pope’s tenure, culminating in a 25-10 overall mark and a runner-up finish in the Western Athletic Conference in 2018-19. Utah Valley was 30-2 at home from 2017-19, and the 25 wins in 2019 were a single-season school record.

He began his collegiate playing career at the University of Washington, where he was tabbed the 1992 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. After his sophomore season, he transferred to Kentucky, where he appeared in every game of his two-year career with the Wildcats. UK won the 1995 and ‘96 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships, the ’95 SEC Tournament title and the 1996 NCAA Tournament. He averaged 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 69 career games. Pope was named to the All-SEC Tournament Team in 1995, behind a pair of double-doubles in three games, including one in the title game that went to overtime.

Pope was selected in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. He played professional basketball from 1997-2005, including stints with Indiana, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets. In 2000-01, he started 45 games and helped the Bucks reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Following his playing days, Pope enrolled in medical school at Columbia University and completed two years before returning to basketball. He joined Mark Fox’s staff at Georgia in 2009. He then spent one season as an assistant coach for Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest and four seasons at BYU under Dave Rose. The Cougars posted four straight 20-win seasons and advanced to postseason play in each of those four years, including three bids to the NCAA Tournament. His success as an assistant at BYU was the springboard to become head coach at Utah Valley. 

Pope and his wife, Lee Anne, have four daughters, Ella, Avery Layla and Shay. He is a 1996 graduate of Kentucky with a degree in English.