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Utah AD Mark Harlan says Kyle Whittingham has strengthened Utes’ program ‘to position it for future success’

Football has won back-to-back Pac-12 South titles

SHARE Utah AD Mark Harlan says Kyle Whittingham has strengthened Utes’ program ‘to position it for future success’
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Athletics director Mark Harlan speaks at a press conference held to announce a $17.5 million donation from the Garff family that will go toward expansion and renovations to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Harlan has seen a lot of his success in his short tenure as Director of Athletics at the University of Utah. Academics have been a strong suit and so, too, has football.

Harlan, who took the helm on June 1, 2018, has seen the Utes claim back-to-back Pac-12 South titles on the gridiron. This past season also included a school-record No. 5 position at one point in the College Football Playoff rankings.

After Utah’s 11-3 season, Harlan answered the following questions from the Deseret News for our review of the Utah football program’s last decade.  

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Utah Utes defensive back Jaylon Johnson (1) celebrates after sacking Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) during the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Deseret News: What was your favorite football moment since becoming Utah’s Director of Athletics?

Mark Harlan: There have been many, but the victory over Oregon at Rice-Eccles in 2018 was special. That was when both Zack (Moss) and Tyler (Huntley) were injured the week prior, and in a must-win situation to keep pace for the South Division lead the team stepped up and played so well. The crowd was electric and truly helped us surge to victory. The great thing is that there are so many to choose from over the last few years and so many more memories to come.

DN: Are you satisfied with the progress the football program has made since joining the Pac-12 in 2011?

MH: When you look back at nine seasons of competition in the Pac-12, it is remarkable the job that Coach Whittingham has done. He had the program positioned to be competitive from the beginning and has climbed to new heights this year with eight conference wins (11 overall) and a second consecutive South title. In the process, he also has continued to strengthen the foundation of the program to position it for future success.

DN: What is the future of the rivalry with BYU?  

MH: This rivalry is important to both institutions and to the people in the state. Tom (Holmoe) and I have a terrific relationship, and as you saw with the adjustment and extension we announced in September, we will continue to work together as great partners. We have seven games scheduled over the next nine seasons, and we will continue to work together in the best interests of our program as they will for theirs.

DN: How, if at all, did your position on expanding the College Football Playoff change with the Utes coming so close to making the top 4 this season?

MH: I’ve been a proponent of an expanded playoff and support the position that a conference champion should have the opportunity to compete for a national championship. Whether that means eight is the appropriate number or if a different number would better achieve that, I do think it’s headed that way and it would be positive for college football.

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University members and donating families participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ken Garff Performance Zone before the start of an NCAA football game between the Utah Utes and Colorado Buffaloes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

DN: It’s been quite a decade for the program. What is your vision for the road ahead?

MH: It has been a very successful decade with a positive trajectory, and we need to continue to invest and support the program in the pursuit of championships. We provide a tremendous experience for our student-athletes, and in August of 2021 we will open the magnificent Ken Garff Performance Zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium. As we do with all of our programs, we need to continue to make sure we’re investing in the right things to support our student-athletes to achieve not only their ultimate goal of earning their degree but to have every opportunity to compete for championships and be prepared to be successful when they leave our university.