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Bud Withers' Blog

A tale of two Marks and the Kentucky job

  About 2001 or 2002, I found myself in Mark Few’s office, having a conversation I never had with any other coach.
  The chief of the Gonzaga basketball program was a couple of years into a tenure as the head guy, and seemed to be wrestling with the notion of the advisability of future job opportunities. He asked me for my thoughts in moving from Eugene – 10 minutes from where he grew up – to Seattle.
  Nothing very profound could I offer, either in the way of advice or insight. In fact, given that Few has staked his entire career at Gonzaga, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude this was only another case of my input ending up on a large trash heap of irrelevance.
  In any case, the conversation came to mind a week ago when Kentucky began its search to replace John Calipari. A respected national media member advanced Few’s name into the discussion, saying he was one figure whose name hadn’t come up, but needed to.
  Briefly, I wondered: Would this be, could this be, the crowning non sequitur for Few – deciding that in the twilight of his career, he had taken Gonzaga as far as he could take it and he was ready to bring all of Kentucky’s resources to bear in one final quest for a national championship? Even after a tenure in which he’s turned down Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, Indiana, Washington, Cal, Florida and God knows how many other openings?
  Nah, no chance. Who knows whether a shot-in-the-dark, flyer of a phone call was made to Few’s agent, but it’s pretty obvious Few intends to retire at Gonzaga. It’s sometimes said that everybody has a price, but Few has made a career of disproving it. Fifty-nine percent of his life – his life, not his career – has been spent at Gonzaga.
  And in that vein, I wonder if Few’s longevity at GU has been instructive for some other coaches along the way – the idea that just maybe, rushing to board the upward-mobility ladder is perhaps not always the best choice.
  The vision of Few at Kentucky was summarily obliterated by paging through the comments of the Wildcat faithful accompanying stories that UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart had hired Mark Pope of Brigham Young to replace Calipari. Most of those reacted by advocating Barnhart be stuffed into a broom closet at Rupp Arena, the door locked behind him.
  Which is precisely why Few wouldn’t bite on Kentucky. The idea of fans driving by his house and asking him to pose for photographs isn’t on his wish list. As longtime college-basketball writer/author Dick Weiss tweeted over the weekend, “Kentucky has the most passionate fan base in college basketball, and it’s not even close.”
  Dan Hurley of Connecticut, the hot thing going, said no to Kentucky. So did Scott Drew of Baylor. It’s unclear whether Kentucky approached Billy Donovan of the Chicago Bulls, but at the very least, this makes Pope no higher than No. 3 on the Wildcats’ list, and that was what seemed to throw many of their fans into a drop-forged rage – the idea that the search itself, not the fruits of it, had put them in their place.
  The Pope hire took me back to the ‘90s, when I covered Washington basketball. A 6-10 forward, Pope was the prize recruit of Lynn Nance’s UW regime, a product of nearby Newport High School. It struck me that Pope had almost a slavish relationship to Nance – totally bought in, eager to do whatever Nance demanded, at a time when the head coach wasn’t a very captivating figure in Seattle.
  Of course, when Nance was fired after the 1993 season, Pope transferred to Kentucky, and there might have been a seed planted to put that into motion. Nance had worked under Joe B. Hall at Kentucky from 1974-76, and he told me once he’d been named a “Kentucky Colonel” under that regime. That’s a service honor bestowed by the governor of Kentucky, and as I recall, Nance displayed that framed certificate on his office wall.
  Pope made the transfer, UK coach Rick Pitino immediately raved about his dedication and work ethic, and he was part of a vaunted Wildcat team that won the 1996 national championship.
  That’s one reason I think this might be an underrated hire. Pope won’t be dumbstruck by the fan frenzy around him; he lived it for three years. Beyond that, he’s a high-motor guy, a bit of a character on the sideline who had Utah Valley and then BYU on an upward arc.
  Meanwhile in Spokane, Mark Few will be content to see it play out, earning less and very likely, enjoying it more.
#theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #wcchoops #wccsports #zaghoops #zagmbb #zagsguru #zagup

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