Patrick Kinahan: Mark Pope deserves to interview with Kentucky

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PROVO — Far from the favorite, but if long-shot circumstances break his way, Mark Pope could have the coaching opportunity of a lifetime over the next week.

In leaving blueblood Kentucky after 15 years, coach John Calipari is shaking up the college basketball world by moving on to Arkansas. A former Wildcat who played on the 1996 national championship team, Pope has been one of several coaches mentioned as a candidate at his alma mater.

Trading BYU, where Pope has coached the last five seasons, for Kentucky is an absolute no-brainer from a professional standpoint. Plenty of other reasons factor into any decision, but the chance to win at one place is far greater than the other.

Consider this: In Calipari's tenure, Kentucky won the 2012 national title, reached the Final Four four times, had two 38-win seasons, and won 12 Southeastern Conference championships. Over the same period, BYU has no conference championships and won one NCAA Tournament play-in game.

The negative with Kentucky is the exorbitant expectations, which are connected to Calipari's departure. The program has failed to reach the Sweet 16 in the last four tournaments and lost in the first round in two of the last three seasons.

As usual with big-time coaching vacancies, potential successors are circulated immediately across social media outlets. Pope's name is down on a list that included head coaches Nate Oates (Alabama), Scott Drew (Baylor), Dan Hurley (Connecticut) and Billy Donovan (Chicago Bulls).

One betting website listed Pope with the fifth-best odds for the job. He trailed, in order, Drew, Oats, New Mexico coach Richard Pitino — whose father was the coach of the '96 championship team — and Donovan.

One day after the Calipari news broke, Oats took to social media to pledge his allegiance to remain at Alabama, which made the Final Four this season. His buyout to leave is a reported $18 million.

Addressed to Bama Nation, Oats wrote, in part: "There is nothing I want more than for the University of Alabama to win its first national championship in men's basketball. Despite any rumors to the contrary, rest assured that I will continue to that pursuit as your head coach."

At the minimum, Pope has earned the right to get an interview. Kentucky administrators would be smart to talk with him, if for no other reason than to strengthen a relationship they could tap into down the line.

For his part, securing an interview could increase Pope's viability for future openings. He also could use the outside interest as leverage for a salary increase.

After building a winner over four seasons at Utah Valley, Pope has had at least enough success at BYU to gain Kentucky's attention. In their first Big 12 season, the Cougars surprised by going 23-11 and finished in fifth place before losing as a sixth seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last month.

Most likely, Pope would impress potential employers in an interview setting. He has an endearing quality about him with the ability to turn on the charm and exuberance when necessary. Also serving five seasons under his predecessor Dave Rose, Pope has a few detractors at BYU that might be part of a high-pressure job.

As an unwritten requirement that high-profile coaches be active members of the university's sponsoring religion, the pool of candidates for certain sports is small. The obvious replacement should Pope leave in the coming years is Mark Madsen.

He succeeded Pope at Utah Valley and took the Wolverines on a deep NIT run last season before becoming the coach at California. After breathing life into a downtrodden Cal program, Madsen received a two-year contract extension last month.

Utah assistant coach Chris Burgess, who worked for Pope at Utah Valley and BYU, also is a possibility. The personable former Duke and Utah player is considered an excellent recruiter and has done well coaching big men.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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