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Silas Walker, Deseret News
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Utah A.D. Mark Harlan Discusses State Of Program On KSL’s Unrivaled

Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s been just over a year since the University of Utah hired Mark Harlan as the athletics director.

On June 1, 2018, Harlan was hired to replace longtime athletic director Chris Hill after an expansive nationwide search. Harlan had previously been the athletic director at the University of South Florida prior to taking the reins from Hill, who had the top job at Utah since 1987.

Harlan’s first year had historic moments, such as the university’s announcement to significantly expand and renovate Rice-Eccles Stadium, but also featured some difficult times like the murder of track and field student-athlete Lauren McCluskey.

KSL’s Unrivaled hosts Alex Kirry and Scott Mitchell were joined by Harlan to discuss the state of the athletics program on a recent edition of the show.

‘Observation Year’

On the air, Harlan said he was proud of the success that the Utes had experienced across all 20 sports, but acknowledged that there is still work to be done. The important thing is that the foundation is in place to take things even further.

“We got our work cut out for us,” said Harlan. “But here’s the thing, the facilities here, the people we have here, the funding we have here, the donor support, etcetera, there’s not excuses that I see.”

Sometimes, Harlan admitted, things don’t work out and there are valid reasons for why teams underperform. For example, due to an especially long winter, the Ute baseball team had a hard time getting work done outdoors before the season. That could have a factor that resulted in a disappointing record for the Utes in 2019.

While Harlan described his first 12 months on the job as an “observation year,” he was also unafraid to make major decisions. The announcement to expand the south end zone area at Rice-Eccles Stadium, for example, had been set in motion years before Harlan arrived on the job thanks the work done by Dr. Hill and deputy athletic director Kyle Brennon. It was just a matter of pulling the trigger.

The stadium expansion is expected to significantly increase not only the building’s capacity to over 50,000, but will also make notable impacts in recruiting, future donor support and overall revenue for the university, according to Harlan.

Working With Whitt

Harlan also signed Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham to a contract extension earlier this year. In talking about the relationship he has with Whittingham, Harlan praised the head coach for his intense concentration for his program.

“What’s always consistent with Kyle is his focus,” said Harlan. “When he’s going to talk with the ‘athletic director’ about his program, he’s laser-focused on the things that are important to him, the needs that they have as a staff. So we tend to center, it’s usually about the kids, the different things we need to do for the kids, his staff.”

One example Harlan shared on his short experience working with Whittingham related to the program’s re-hiring of Andy Ludwig as the offensive coordinator. In searching for former offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s replacement, the two compared notes and contacts and ultimately reached a consensus on Ludwig. Harlan and Whittingham also collaborated on defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s major pay raise and extension.

Part of Harlan’s job is also help boast the public perception of the Pac-12 Conference. The best way to do that, in Harlan’s words, is simple.

“We have to win,” said Harlan. “We have to face these nonconference games and we got to get better. We were talking about this recently in an A.D. room, we all have to take it upon ourselves and our programs to get better.”

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.