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Kentucky fans react to reports of Mark Pope as the next Kentucky men’s basketball coach

Fans fill the stands during the Kentucky vs. Florida mens’s basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 94-91. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Kentucky social media was sent into a frenzy late Thursday night when reports surfaced that athletic director Mitch Barnhart had zeroed in on Mark Pope to be the next head coach of the Cats’ men’s basketball team.

Pope, despite being a national championship winning player for Kentucky, was negatively received by most fans due to his unproven nature, having yet to win a single NCAA Tournament game as a head coach.

CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, at 9:33 p.m. ET with a report of breaking news that Barnhart hoped to get a deal worked out and done by the end of the night.

Immediately on that post Kentucky fans and college basketball fans more broadly reacted with shock and dismay.

One user, named Catman (@JohnTur66798041) wrote, “Sad day for Kentucky pope isn’t ready . PERIOD IM GIVING UP MY SEASON TICKETS.”

Not one for subtlety and tact, B Rax (@raxraxrax00) wrote, “Mark Pope is who you hire when your regular coach dies in a skydiving accident a week before the season. My goodness.”

In Spaces, chat rooms where users can discuss things vocally with a host, fans continued to react with one user saying, “You don’t make this hire if he isn’t a former Kentucky player.”

Many agreed with that sentiment as, despite being a national champion and Kentucky legend, Pope’s resume is a far cry from those that fans were calling for including UConn’s Dan Hurley, the Chicago Bulls’ Billy Donovan and Baylor’s Scott Drew, the final of which fans were all but certain would get the job before he publicly declined it Thursday morning.

One user, KG (@__NotKG), donning a profile picture with Barnhart’s face crossed out, posted a video on the platform with the caption, “When that ‘Kentucky has parted ways with AD Mitch Barnhart’ tweet hits.”

The video being displayed was of WWE professional wrestler John Cena publicly announcing that the United States had captured and killed infamous terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

“We have caught and compromised to a permanent end Osama Bin Laden,” Cena said to a chorus of cheers at the WWE Extreme Rules 2011 pay-per-view event.

That same user also posted that Pope could “Have Jesus and the 12 disciples on the roster and (they’d) still hate this hire.”

Kentucky fans also vandalized Pope’s Wikipedia page writing that Pope “declined to be the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats” and “Rumors are swirling that the AD is in panic mode after hiring MARK Pope when he thought he had come to terms with THE Pope.”

That’s not to suggest ALL reactions were negative, with some supporting the hire or at least being willing to give Pope a chance.

“If it’s Mark Pope, let’s give the guy a shot before crucifying him,” Kyle Piercy (@rkypiercy) wrote. “The negativity in this fan base is exhausting. (I think I’m getting soft in my old age).”

Rex Chapman, another former Wildcat and media figure, also supported the hire.

If Mark Pope is hired at Kentucky I just feel compelled to say that Mark is one of the best people you could ever know,” he wrote. “Fierce competitor. Man of character and integrity. Someone you feel comfortable sending your son to play for. A GREAT player. Better coach.”

The outrage did somewhat calm down by the morning, when it was announced that the hiring was official and Pope would be the next head coach of the Cats. An introductory press conference is being prepared and can tentatively be planned for Sunday.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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    Don Cawood PopeApr 12, 2024 at 10:59 pm

    I totally support Mark Pope as Kentuck’s head basketball coach. I welcome him home! He will soon put down the naysayers.