Kentucky reportedly finalizing deal with BYU coach Mark Pope to replace John Calipari

Mark Pope has never won an NCAA tournament game. He is reportedly set to become the head coach of Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Mark Pope has never won an NCAA tournament game. He is reportedly set to become the head coach of Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) (Michael Reaves via Getty Images)

Kentucky is reportedly zeroing in on its next head coach. It's a name few were expecting when John Calipari vacated the job.

The Wildcats are finalizing a five-year deal with BYU head coach Mark Pope, according to ESPN's Pete Thamel.

Pope played two seasons at Kentucky in the 90s, redshirting a season after transferring from Washington and then playing from 1994 to 1996 under Rick Pitino, winning a title in his senior year. That's a positive on Pope's résumé as he takes over a blue blood.

His history as a coach, however, makes the hire quite a surprise.

Pope has worked as a head coach since 2015 at BYU and Utah Valley. With the Cougars, he has posted a 110-52 record in five seasons, with two NCAA tournament berths. His teams failed to win a game in both appearances, getting upset as a No. 6 seed in the first round of both.

John Calipari left Kentucky after another 1st-round exit

There was some speculation that Kentucky would be looking for a head coach this offseason, but not because of Calipari choosing to go elsewhere.

Calipari's approval rating among Wildcats fans has steadily decreased since he won a national championship in 2012, and it hit an all-time low last month, when Kentucky was bounced in the first round of March Madness as a No. 3 seed by No. 14 seed Oakland. It marked the second time in three years that Kentucky had lost in the first round, with only one win in the tournament since 2019.

That sure felt like a potentially fireable situation for Calipari, but the tricky part was a reported $33 million buyout in his contract. There was no movement on that front for weeks — until the rumblings about Calipari potentially leaving for Arkansas began.

Those soon came to fruition, leaving the Wildcats looking for a head coach relatively late in the cycle. And the end result appears to be Pope. He wasn't exactly the program's first choice.

Kentucky's options were limited after Scott Drew turned it down

Kentucky is theoretically one of the biggest jobs in college basketball, so it made sense that Calipari's exit immediately led to speculation that the program could land a big name.

UConn's Dan Hurley. Alabama's Nate Oats. Baylor's Scott Drew. The Chicago Bulls' Billy Donovan. All of these were presented as options, and they quickly went nowhere. Oats released a statement affirming his commitment to the Crimson Tide. Hurley laughed them off the stage after the national championship game. Drew appeared to consider the job, then stuck with the Bears. Donovan was reportedly never seriously pursued despite being potentially interested.

There's no telling how widely Kentucky searched before landing on Pope, but it's hard to imagine a very hungry fan base being happy with the hire after the possibilities that were initially presented.