USF athletic director Mark Harlan headed to Utah

The Los Angeles native recently signed a three-year contract extension at USF
USF athletic director Mark Harlan was entering his fifth full year as USF athletic director. (Times file photo)
USF athletic director Mark Harlan was entering his fifth full year as USF athletic director. (Times file photo)
Published June 1, 2018|Updated June 1, 2018

A month after signing a contract extension with USF, athletic director Mark Harlan has been hired for the same job at Utah.

Sources close to Harlan indicated Friday the Los Angeles native was headed back West, and Utah confirmed the news late Friday afternoon.

Harlan replaces Chris Hill, who retired after 31 years on the job, during which time he helped usher Utah into the Pac-12. According to the terms of the new contract he signed in April, Harlan would owe USF $262,500 — an amount equal to half his base salary — if he resigns before July 1, 2020.

Harlan didn't immediately respond to a text message Friday, but said via Twitter that leading USF's athletic department "has been the greatest honor of my career…"

Speculation about Harlan's successor is almost certain to remain local. Prominent candidates likely will include Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director (and USF alumnus) Rob Higgins, and veteran Bulls softball coach Ken Eriksen.

Harlan arrived at USF in March 2014 from UCLA, where he served as senior associate AD for external relations. On his watch, USF has won 12 American Athletic Conference titles, while the Bulls football program has been resuscitated  both on the field (21-4 over the last two seasons) and off (three-game contracts with Louisville and the University of Florida).

Related: Gators, USF announce 3-game football series

Additionally, Harlan is credited with quickly homing in on — and hiring — Charlie Strong when Willie Taggart bolted for Oregon in December 2016; re-upping the contract of highly successful women's hoops coach Jose Fernandez; and hiring former baseball coach Mark Kingston, who led the Bulls two a pair of NCAA Tournaments in his three seasons.

"I wish Mark and (wife) Carolyn all the best," Fernandez said.

"It was a pleasure to work with Mark. A big reason why our program has been successful has been because of Mark's support, not only for our players but my staff and myself and my family. … He was very supportive of women's athletics."

USF also recently reported all 16 of its programs posted Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores of 952 or better for the third consecutive year, and indicated it enjoyed its best fundraising total in 2016-17, with most of that believed to be deferred gifts.

Eriksen lauded Harlan for elevating the Bulls into the Big 12 conversation when that Power Five league was considering expansion, as well as helping fortify the American Athletic Conference and indefatigably monitoring the welfare of USF student-athletes.

"His approach to knowing every student-athlete was impressive," Eriksen said. "He lived and died with every play from scrimmage, every drive to the basket, every serve and every plate appearance."

But some prominent donors privately have bemoaned the Bulls' fundraising efforts. Moreover, USF remains the only AAC school with no indoor football practice facility in place or under construction, and the school's on-campus stadium feasibility study continues moving at a  very modest pace.