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Ute coaches are already impressed with Mark Harlan after initial meeting with new boss

SALT LAKE CITY — Before he made his first media appearance at Rice-Eccles Stadium Monday morning, new University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan called a staff meeting to get to know the various coaches in the department, and share his expectations.

The first impressions were positive among several of the Ute coaches who were on hand for Monday’s gathering on the sixth floor of the stadium.

Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts was on the committee that helped select Harlan and she was impressed while looking at him before he was hired and after he spoke to the coaches.

“It’s a great day for Utah athletics,” she said. “He’s impressive and has a breadth of experience. He’s got a good way about him and is very personable, and I think everybody’s optimistic.”

“I think it’s exciting,” said women’s track coach Kyle Kepler. “He prides himself on being a great listener and I think coaches appreciate that. He wants to be transparent and he told us sometimes he has to flat-out say no, and that’s OK.”

Kepler acknowledged there are always concerns when there is change, particularly when someone like Chris Hill has been in charge for 31 years.

“With a change, there’s always some trepidation and the unknown, but he cleared that up this morning,” Kepler said. “It was nice to get together with us as a staff and he made sure we knew what he was about. He’s big on listening and wants some sports to continue to thrive and other sports to grow and improve.”

Megan Marsden, the co-women’s head gymnastics coach along with Tom Farden, admitted it’s “scary” for less prominent programs when a new leader takes over an athletic department. But she said her fears were put to rest after meeting with Harlan, who was an assistant A.D. at UCLA, which has a top women’s gymnastics team.

“It’s always a little bit scary, as Tom and I were losing Chris Hill and we’ve known we’ve had his support for a long time,” she said. “Certainly (Harlan) has been very complimentary of our body of work with our program and is looking forward to helping us with whatever he can. So all of that looks good for gymnastics. I’m hopeful with a lot of his experience in fundraising, that we can continue to flourish at Utah.”

One of the main duties of an athletic director is fundraising and one of Utah’s main financial boosters is Spence Eccles, whose name is on the stadium and who was on hand Monday.

“We had a national search and being in the Pac-12 we had to. We did our homework, we had a lot of good choices, and now my first impression is over the top,” Eccles said. “He brings all the key elements to the job, with fundraising along with everything else. He comes into a solid program and what he said was right on target. The best is yet to come and I believe that.”