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James Wooldridge, Deseret News
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Harlan Proud Of Utah Football, Sees Growth In Basketball After First Year As A.D.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has gotten a lot of work done in his first year in the position.

Earlier this month, Harlan passed the year mark in his service as the Utes’ athletic director, a role that puts him overseeing the operations and administrations for Utah’s 20 varsity sports programs.

With a year under his belt, Harlan spoke to KSL Sports’ Jeremiah Jensen about the past 12 months on the job and what the future looks like on the hill.

When asked what the first year has been like, Harlan didn’t hesitate to mention how helpful the support staff has been in his transition to the job after coming in as the athletic director at the University of South Florida.

“Well I think it comes down to the people, the incredible people that I’ve had a chance to meet. It starts with our student athletes and our staff and our coaches, just an incredible group of people pulling for the same goal and working together,” said Harlan. “And of course also, our fans and our donors. There’s a lot said coming in about the incredible support but it’s been absolutely overwhelming and particularly memorable as I look back on the year.”

Whitt Deserved Extension

Harlan hit the ground running at Utah and made several big moves, including moving forward on expanding the south end zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which he discussed on KSL’s Unrivaled, but also signed longtime head football coach Kyle Whittingham to a contract extension.

Whittingham led the Utes to their first Pac-12 South Division title in 2018, adding to his already impressive resume, but it wasn’t just the success on the gridiron that led Harlan to offering Whittingham another lucrative deal.

“I think for me it was really just starting to sit down and wanting to work with him. I always talk about the system that he has at the University of Utah but I needed to get in that system and learn about all the things that he was doing. All that I learned is that he’s such a special, unique coach and perfect for the University of Utah in the way he molds young men,” said Harlan. “For me it was a no-brainer for the on-field success, but more importantly for me, was the incredible graduation rates of that program, the GPAs are up, every single metric that you look at is up, so why would you wait?”

Runnin’ Utes Got Better

While the Utes had success in football, once again, in 2018, the men’s basketball team again failed to secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament. For a once-storied program, it was another disappointing year as the Runnin’ Utes missed the Big Dance for the third straight season.

Despite the disappointment, Harlan is convinced that head coach Larry Krystkowiak has the program trending in the right direction.

“We all want to be in the postseason, not just for basketball, for all our teams, that’s the expectation at the University of Utah. What I saw this year was Larry molding a young team that needed to come together, picked well low in the league, finished in the top three of the league, got the bye, didn’t play the way we wanted to in Vegas, I was hoping we could make a run there, didn’t happen. But we got better as the year went on and I think that’s what’s really important,” said Harlan.