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University of Utah hires South Florida’s Mark Harlan as new athletic director

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Mark Harlan

Mark Harlan

Travis Pendergrass

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t take long for the University of Utah to find a new athletic director. Hours after Dr. Chris Hill departed for retirement after nearly 31 years on the job, the school announced that South Florida athletic director Mark Harlan will fill the position.

“After an extensive national search during which we spoke with a number of outstanding candidates, Mark emerged as our clear top choice,” University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins said in making the announcement. “Mark has a breadth of experience in athletics and in fundraising, an open and collaborative leadership style and a track record of success that will enable him to lead our athletics department to greater heights. On behalf of the university community, I want to welcome Mark and his family to the U.”

Harlan will be formally introduced at a press conference Monday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He’ll begin his duties at Utah on July 1.

“I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of Chris Hill and to build on the strong foundation already in place,” Harlan said in the press release. “President Watkins has a clear vision for the University of Utah and recognizes that athletics can play a role in the university’s upward trajectory. I am grateful to her for the tremendous opportunity and her confidence in me and I cannot wait to get started.”

Harlan, who became South Florida’s athletic director in 2014, guided the Bulls to 12 American Athletic Conference championships during his tenure. The department achieved an 82 percent Graduation Success Rate in 2017 with 12 teams reaching a GPA of 3.0 or higher. USF’s athletic department generated a school record of nearly $53 million in multi-media rights and apparel. Donations increased by 300 percent over 2016.

Before taking over in Tampa, Harlan held various positions elsewhere. Stops included UCLA (senior associate athletic director for external relations), Arizona (senior vice president for central development), San Jose State (senior associate athletic director), and Northern Colorado (associate athletic director).

Harlan is an Arizona graduate, having earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

President Watkins and her team have made an outstanding choice. Mark has a great reputation in our conference from his time at Arizona and UCLA, and I know he will build upon the great foundation that Chris Hill has established over the last 31 years at Utah. – Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott

Watkins chose Harlan after a national search and input from an advisory committee of university faculty, administrators, coaches, former athletes and community leaders.

“Much of the committee’s work focused on identifying the key attributes needed in a new athletic director. After talking with key stakeholders inside the program, as well as our community representatives on the committee, we recognized the A.D. position is very multifaceted,” Watkins explained in the announcement. “Student athletes expect a strong and principled advocate. Coaches need a skilled administrator, and our fans and philanthropic supporters value an A.D. who understands collaboration and has a broad vision for program success. Mark’s experience, character and commitment make him an excellent fit.”

The news was well received within the Pac-12.

"I am thrilled to hear of Mark Harlan’s selection as the University of Utah’s next athletic director and excited to welcome him back to the Pac-12,” said conference commissioner Larry Scott. “President Watkins and her team have made an outstanding choice. Mark has a great reputation in our conference from his time at Arizona and UCLA, and I know he will build upon the great foundation that Chris Hill has established over the last 31 years at Utah. I have great respect for Mark, both as a leader and as a person, and I look forward to working with him in our conference."

Dan Guerrero, UCLA’s director of athletics, also liked the hiring of Harlan.

“I’m extremely pleased to welcome Mark Harlan back to the Pac-12. Having worked with Mark for a number of years when he oversaw external affairs at UCLA, I know firsthand what an excellent hire this is for Utah,” Guerrero said. “Mark is a great communicator, and a person and an administrator of high integrity. He and his family will be a tremendous addition to the Utah community. I look forward to working with him in the conference.”

At Utah, Harlan will direct 20 varsity sports, a staff of close to 200 people, and will oversee an $80 million budget. According to the announcement, one of Harlan’s key roles will involve planning and fundraising for potential expansion of Rice-Eccles Stadium.