Mark Pope wasn't even sure he wanted to be the head basketball coach at Utah Valley University so when the school president stopped in the middle of the interview and asked the BYU assistant if he had any questions Pope didn't hold back.
"I hit them with five questions really quick — What about this? What about that? Can you do that?," said Pope. "Then I stopped and said, 'I want to know the answers but what I'm really interested in is do those questions make you nervous.'"
The president, Matthew Holland, laughed.
His chief of staff, Fidel Montero, jumped right in.
"This place is like Google," Montero told Pope. "We're growing so fast we've totally overgrown any oversight. If somebody here has a great idea, we chase it as fast and as hard as we possibly can and if it turns out to be a bad idea, we re-route it and we chase the next idea as hard as we possibly can."
All of a sudden, Mark Pope wanted to be the head basketball coach at Utah Valley.
That's exactly what Pope is doing, three months into his first head coaching job. And if you know anything about the 42-year-old Pope, a Google-kind of place is a perfect fit.
After two years at the University of Washington, Pope transferred to Kentucky where he was a key member of Rick Pitino's 1996 national championship team.
He spent the next eight years bouncing between the NBA and CBA before enrolling at Columbia Medical School. After two years there, Pope got a call from Mark Fox, a former Washington assistant who had taken the Georgia head coaching job. Fox asked Pope to join him in Athens.
"It was an absolutely torturous decision," said Pope, who spent three weeks going back and forth with his wife Lee Anne (a former assistant to David Letterman) before deciding to change career path. "Two days later I drove down to Georgia for their first camp and as soon as I got on campus it was just so clear, I knew this is what I want to do with my life."
After a year "doing laundry and packing travel bags" at Georgia, Pope joined Jeff Bzdelik's staff at Wake Forest. He spent the last four seasons at BYU, where the Cougars made the NCAA Tournament two times.
"I am the worst player that's had the opportunity to play for the best coaches," Pope said via phone on Friday from his office in Utah. "Just look at the guys I've had a chance to work and play for."
Rick Pitino, his head coach at UK: "Just his aggressive posturing in every facet of the game. That's something that's part of my DNA now."
Larry Bird, his head coach for the Indiana Pacers in the NBA: "He had incredible ability to take all these different variables that were important in a game and boil them down to a piece that was the most important and communicate that to his players."
Billy Donovan, who coached him as an assistant at UK: "Just his professional daily grind and demeanor. He does it without being a huge personality. He's dialed in all the time."
George Karl, his head coach with the Milwaukee Bucks: "He is so willing as a coach to be innovative. And when you're innovative as a coach you're setting yourself up to be crushed. But he almost coveted the scrutiny."
Dave Rose, the head coach at BYU: "He just refuses to be distracted by anything going on in terms of winning the game he's playing right now. And that's a little bit unique to the degree that he does it."
Now, it is Pope's turn to apply what he's learned and to be innovative. A junior college just 10 years ago, Utah Valley has been on the fast track of late, growing from 10,000 students to 34,000.
"It's the largest university now in the state of Utah," Pope said. "It's on this incredible growth plate."
A member of the WAC, the Wolverines were just 11-19 last season. Dick Hunsaker stepped down after 13 years as head coach. In stepped Pope.
"This is what most of us are shooting for, the opportunity to take a big swing at this profession," he said. "We're in a good league, but not one so top-heavy that we can't be a player in it. We're going to figure things out this year as we go and then it's going to be full steam ahead."