When UVU was looking for the coach to take the Wolverines men’s basketball team to the next level, they called a man who was just up the street. Now, Mark Pope starts his first season with missionary zeal.
Mark Pope had driven past UVU’s campus thousands of times during his four seasons as an assistant basketball coach at BYU, but like a lot of valley residents, he rarely stopped to see the magic of the newest — and largest — state university.
“I’d only been on the campus once or twice for my daughters’ ball games,” Mark says. “I’d heard the job might open, but I wasn’t sure it was for me.”
After all, Mark was an assistant coach at BYU, coaching with his good friend, Dave Rose, at an institution that fit his coaching — and family — style.
“BYU is extraordinary,” he says. “It truly is a light on the hill. I love Coach Rose and felt blessed to work there. I will tell you, though, that the mission of UVU is equally inspiring to me.”
“BYU is extraordinary. It truly is a light on the hill. I love Coach Rose and felt blessed to work there. I will tell you, though, that the mission of UVU is equally inspiring to me.”
—Mark Pope, UVU head men’s basketball coach
When talking with Mark about UVU, the recruiting side comes out. He’s evangelical about his new home and shares the passion of his new employer — UVU president Matthew Holland.
‘Give Me One Hour’
While not initially interested in the UVU job, Mark’s mind was changed after getting a call from President Holland.
“He said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of names come across my desk for the basketball coaching job, but not yours. Why not?’” Mark recalls. “I told him I appreciated the phone call, but I was happy at BYU. He said, ‘Give me one hour.’”
In that one-hour meeting, the university president got himself a basketball coach.
“President Holland is extraordinary,” Mark says. “He’s a monumental force and a person of great intellect and vision for what the school already is and also what it will become.”
Mark is a thinker and a doer. He appreciates the “go out and try it” attitude that has led to UVU’s quick growth and innovative approach to educating thousands. In fact, something spoken by President Holland’s chief of staff, Fidel Montero, impressed and excited Mark.
“He said, ‘UVU is a lot more like Google than the hallowed halls of a traditional academic institution,’” Mark says. “Who wouldn’t want to work here? We chase great ideas and see where they lead. We’re not steeped in — or shackled by — tradition.”
Like every other part of the university, the Wolverine basketball team is a relative newcomer to the world of big-time college athletics. It’s been a Division I program since 2003 and joined the Western Athletic Conference — former home of BYU and the University of Utah — in 2013. Outgoing coach Dick Hunsaker started from scratch and finished his Wolverine career with a 205-153 record, highlighted by a 20-12 campaign in 2013-14 season that included an invitation to the NIT and a regular season conference title in the school’s first season in the WAC.
“This place is energizing — and exhausting,” Mark says. “This isn’t a place where you clock in at 9 and you’re out of here at 5. People are looking for unique solutions to problems in all areas of the school. Our basketball team will be no different.”
With the talented pool of basketball players in Utah Valley, Mark knows he will need to get as many locals to stay as possible. However, he also works hard to find the best players he can, no matter their ZIP code.
“We need to recruit the best players who will represent the university in a positive way,” he says. “We will recruit Utah Valley and Utah kids hard. However, there’s no place we’re uncomfortable going to find someone. We have people from Ohio, Texas, California, Idaho and Minnesota. We will find them wherever we can.”
One challenge UVU faces with relation to a potential local fan base is the school’s junior college past. Many locals — including recruits and parents — view UVU as a second-rate, two-year school fit to play the likes of Snow College and the former Ricks College instead of Utah State, Weber State and New Mexico State.
Mark knows that will change and he’s using his relationship with Dave Rose and others to bring top-notch basketball to the UCCU Center. UVU and BYU announced a four-game series starting this season — including the Cougars first-ever trip to the UCCU Center on Nov. 29, 2017.
“I know coaches who don’t like to play their friends,” Mark says. “But who is more fun to play sports against than a brother? You can go hard and both compete, then be fine after the game. We love the chance to build this series with BYU.”
Mark Pope knows it’s hard for die-hard, lifelong BYU fans to drop that allegiance and switch to an exclusive relationship with UVU’s basketball team. That’s why he asks his blue friends to give him one day a week for “Wolverine Wednesday.”
“I ask them to wear green one day a week,” he says. “That’s it. It’s green. It’s not red. It’s green. Plus, it gives them a chance to wear something other than the blue they always wear.”
From there, Mark anticipates the team’s brand of basketball, great venue for games and fun atmosphere will turn one day into more.
A Family Affair
Not only did Mark need a wardrobe makeover, but his wife, Lee Anne, and four daughters (Ella, Avery, Layla and Shay) all made a loyalty shift, too.
“They love green,” Mark says. “They’re all in. They love it here.”
As the daughters of a coach, they know that changing jobs and even moving across the country isn’t out of the question. In fact, the family was a little disappointed that the UVU job didn’t come with a new house and a moving van.
Lee Anne is the daughter of former University of Utah head coach Lynn Archibald, so she is keenly familiar with the lifestyle of a basketball family. She loves the way the job involves the entire family.
“You get attached to the players and the places,” Lee Anne says. “Coach K (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski) always says he runs a mom-and-pop shop. It’s really true. We’ve always looked at this job as a ‘we,’ not a ‘him.’”
Mark also knows that in addition to involving his family, if the Wolverines are going to take their place as a top-notch program they will need support from the local community. The Wolverines will need “them” to become “us.” The blue in Utah Valley will need to grow a little more green. And he’s leading by example.
Learn more about Mark Pope’s family and his wife Lee Anne, who worked for David Letterman, here.