BYU is closing in on selecting a new head coach to lead its men’s basketball program, following Dave Rose’s retirement after 14 successful seasons.
In keeping with university policy, the school has submitted four candidates’ names for approval by leaders of its governing institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a source with knowledge of the process. Those final four candidates shouldn’t be surprising to anyone following the search: Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, Portland State head coach Barret Peery and current BYU interim head coach Quincy Lewis.
The university requires all head coaches of its athletic programs to be church members in good standing, which means an ecclesiastical endorsement from church leadership is a prerequisite for any hire. The athletic department will await Salt Lake’s sign-off on all or some of the submitted candidates before further winnowing their list.
Once the candidates have been cleared, a source with knowledge of the process tells Vanquish The Foe that the university intends to determine their top two candidates and hold final interviews next week, with the goal of making a final selection by the end of the week. The Cougars hope to have the new coach and his staff in place in time to hit the ground running during the upcoming April live recruiting period, which occurs from April 26-28.
Pope remains widely regarded as the front runner for the post. Despite media reports and private intimations from the coach’s circle to the contrary, sources with direct knowledge of the process insist that no offer has been extended. However, most observers believe that the job is likely to be Pope’s if he wants it. Whether or not he wants it remains the question. Pope possesses well-known aspirations to coach a major college program (with his alma mater Kentucky serving as his ultimate dream job), and questions abound whether BYU would actually serve as an effective stepping stone on his way up the coaching ladder.
With its selective academic standards and stringent Honor Code, Provo can be a tough place to secure the talent needed to win big and quickly move on to bigger things. Pope may be better positioned to advance by staying at Utah Valley, where he has a strong roster returning that could qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, or by pursuing one of many vacancies at other schools that will surely come available as the season ends and the coaching carousel continues to spin. Somewhere like Nevada — which Eric Musselman has rapidly transformed into a premier mid-major program by landing high-profile transfer talent, setting the coach up for a near-certain promotion this offseason — would seem to be a good fit for Pope’s transfer-heavy recruiting style and a proven path to bigger opportunities.
If Pope ultimately passes on the gig, both Madsen and Peery have pursued the job doggedly. Madsen’s circle has been open in the press about the former Stanford big man’s desire to live closer to his Utah-based family, and that he sees the BYU gig as the right solution at the right time. (With the Lakers reportedly planning to terminate their entire coaching staff, Madsen is widely expected to become unemployed at the end of the NBA season.) His rich NBA pedigree and decade of experience developing pro players could position Madsen as a strong recruiter, with the ability to convincingly sell prospects on his ability to help them improve their craft and prepare for the next level — a case that hasn’t been convincingly made in Provo in a long time, if ever.
Peery has already met with athletic department personnel twice, according to a source with knowledge of the process, and has left a deep impression on decision makers in both encounters. He also reportedly chatted with several current players during his second visit on Monday. Peery, a native of Payson, is beloved and has deep roots in Utah’s grassroots basketball community, and has proven his bonafides as a recruiter over multiple stops at the junior college level and as a Division I assistant at Arizona State, Utah, Santa Clara and more. He has also shown a willingness to get creative with his on-court tactics at Portland State — a trait that could be useful in finding fresh ways to overcome BYU’s inherent limitations.
The athletic department has been persistent in wanting someone who really wants to be at BYU—and it seems that either Madsen or Peery would fit that bill. Ultimately, the final decision will turn heavily on what Mark Pope wants — and whether he thinks a stop at BYU is the best path to getting there. History indicates that it might not be. But if their first-choice candidate ultimately chooses to go a different route, Cougar fans can rest easy knowing that their program has to qualified, passionate professionals still available to step in and take the reins.
(UPDATE, April 7: This story has been updated to reflect new reporting and more up-to-date information.)