SALT LAKE CITY — Overlooking the Salt Lake Valley atop Rice-Eccles Stadium, Mark Harlan and his young family were introduced before a small crowd as the University of Utah’s newest athletics director Monday.
Harlan, the former athletics director at the University of South Florida, started off his introductory press conference by saying he was “excited” to be a part of the university, calling it “an unbelievable institution.” Having been a part of UCLA and Arizona previously, Harlan said playing Utah was always “a fight.”
“It didn’t matter what sport it was, you were in a fight and it was really hard to win.”
Harlan outlined his expectations as the school’s newest athletic director, saying that he and his entire staff will be evaluated by the “three C’s”: to win in the classroom, community and in competition.
“We are the flagship of this entire state,” he said. “We represent Utah and we represent Salt Lake City, and our young people will be in this community. They support us; we will support them.”
But above all, Harlan was committed to the competitive results on the field or court for the coaches and athletes he’s responsible for leading.
“This is not intramurals,” he said. “This is big time, big time college sports, and we’re going to win in competition.”
Harlan committed himself in the press conference to being transparent with his staff and letting them know where they stand. He added that it’s not a matter of evaluating a coach at the end of the season, but evaluating how he and his administration helped the coaches and the programs throughout the season. “We’re all in this together.”
Speaking to the various student-athletes that make up the athletics department, Harlan promised them that “we will not rest until we have the very best student-athlete experience in this country” and that the university owes it to them. To the fans, Harlan said he will continue to ensure they have the best fan experience at all the events they attend.
“Every day I’ll work on that,” he said. “But we’re not just going to think we’re doing it, we’re going to ask you and we’re going to find out where we need to improve — what can we do better? We’ll always be checking on that. That’s critically important.”
Harlan said that before he starts on anything, though, he will do a lot of listening to see how he can best serve the coaches, student-athletes, donors and the fans. However, Harlan said he’s grateful for the efforts of Chris Hill and how he left the department following his 31 years as the athletics director.
“He’s in the Mt. Rushmore of our business,” Harlan said. “He’s just a great, great man. I’m just excited to have a chance to follow through on everything he built here.”
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, too, thanked Hill for putting Utah in a good position to “attract a leader of Mark’s caliber.”
“The health and vitality and vibrancy of athletics, the fact that we have succeeded in the Pac-12, that we put student-athletes first, that athletics is healthy financially with great facilities and great people and wonderful collaborative partners like you in this room, means that we’re well positioned to recruit leadership like Mark.”
“Get ready. Buckle up. Go Utes,” Harlan said.
Harlan will formally assume his role as Utah’s athletics director on July 1. The full press conference can be viewed below or on live.ksl.com.