Will Arizona Wildcats Pursue BYU’s Mark Pope For Vacant Head Coach Position?

Apr 7, 2021, 3:47 PM | Updated: Apr 14, 2021, 9:37 am
Mark Pope - BYU Basketball...
BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope coaching up his players. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
(BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah – One of the top college basketball jobs out west is open (Arizona), and Mark Pope is being mentioned as a potential candidate.

The Arizona Wildcats fired Sean Miller on Wednesday in a move that felt to be a long time coming. Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said in a press conference that he moved on from Miller due to on-court and off-court elements.

Now the Wildcats look for someone new to take over a program that has been mired in controversy the past three years. What direction will they go? They will have a quality list of suitors, one would imagine. Heeke also said in his press conference that the next head coach at Arizona doesn’t need to fit a certain profile. It could be either a head coach or an assistant coach.

Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd is viewed as a favorite by many national analysts and insiders. He’s been an assistant under Mark Few for the past two decades and has been right alongside Few in orchestrating one of the sport’s great powerhouses. But if he doesn’t want to leave, could Mark Pope be next in line?

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello mentioned Mark Pope as a candidate who “had some buzz a few months ago.” The “few months ago” part of that statement shows how long there has been uncertainty regarding the Miller drama in the desert.

Will Arizona look at Mark Pope for head coach position?

In two years at BYU, Mark Pope has produced the Cougars best teams in the West Coast Conference era (since 2011), and he’s led them to one NCAA Tournament (two had there been a Big Dance in 2020). The Cougars record in two years under Pope is an impressive 44-15 overall.

BYU finished the 2021 season ranked No. 20 in the final KenPom ratings and earned a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 20th ranking in the KenPom metrics was only seven spots lower than the 13th place finished Pope put together in his first year with a team that featured seven seniors.

Last November, Pope signed a contract extension with BYU to keep him as the head coach of the program through the 2026-27 season. Terms of the contract have never been disclosed due to BYU being a privately owned university.

Pope has always felt he could win big at BYU. It was one reason he took the job in the first place after leading Utah Valley to some of the Wolverine’s best seasons in their brief history as a Division I program.

He’s shown that he can get BYU high seeds as an at-large from the West Coast Conference. The Cougars have also proven to be a national player in the Transfer Portal, landing the likes of Alex Barcello, Matt Haarms, Brandon Averette. They are expected to be in the mix for high-end talent such as Cincinnati transfer Mike Saunders Jr. this year.

Arizona hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2001. But they are in a Power 6 conference, the Pac-12, a league that experienced a revival to its brand during this year’s NCAA Tournament. Arizona was sidelined during the Madness due to self-imposed sanctions.

Speaking of sanctions, what could be on the horizon from the NCAA for whoever takes this Arizona job? Could that be something that deters Pope or others from taking a serious look at the Wildcats if called by Heeke’s search firm?

Sportsline currently lists Pope as having the fifth-best odds to land the Arizona job, behind Floyd and Arizona alums Damon Stoudamire (Pacific), Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech), and Miles Simon (Los Angeles Lakers assistant). Arizona’s 247Sports site, WildcatAuthority, listed Pope as the second candidate on their Big Board for who they consider “main candidates for the job.”

“I mentioned Mark Pope months ago. I think he’d be really good. A-list personality,” said Stadium’s Jeff Goodman on The Field of 68 Network. “Done a great job at BYU so far. I think Mark Pope should be in the equation if they’re going outside the family.”

Other names that have been floated around for the Arizona job besides Mark Pope include Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, Florida coach Mike White, and former Michigan and Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Will Arizona Wildcats Pursue BYU’s Mark Pope For Vacant Head Coach Position?