Utah hires South Florida athletic director Mark Harlan as its new AD as Chris Hill says goodbye

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill says goodbye to friends and staff at the Huntsman Center on Friday, June 1, 2018, before climbing aboard a red Ute-branded Holiday Motor coach bus to the sounds of cheers and applause after 31 years on the job.

On the day Chris Hill rode off into the sunset in a Utah-themed bus, the Utes also settled on his successor.

Utah has hired University of South Florida athletic director Mark Harlan to replace Hill, who after 31 years at the helm, officially retired Friday morning as athletic director at Utah.

“After an extensive national search during which we spoke with a number of outstanding candidates, Mark emerged as our clear top choice,” Utah president Ruth V. Watkins in a statement. “Mark has a breadth of experience in athletics and in fundraising, an open and collaborative leadership style and a track record of success that will enable him to lead our athletics department to greater heights. On behalf of the university community, I want to welcome Mark and his family to the U.”

Harlan, who grew up in Los Angeles, arrived at South Florida in 2014 after serving as a senior associate athletic director at UCLA, where he worked for four years. During Harlan’s time at USF, the Bulls athletic department won 12 conference titles. It was announced just six weeks ago that Harlan signed a new three-year contract extension at USF, which would have kept him as the AD through at least 2020-21.

But the chance to move to Utah and back to the Pac-12 was just too compelling.

“I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of Chris Hill and to build on the strong foundation already in place,” said Harlan. “President Watkins has a clear vision for the University of Utah and recognizes that athletics can play a role in the university’s upward trajectory. I am grateful to her for the tremendous opportunity and her confidence in me and I cannot wait to get started.”

The University of Arizona graduate has a stellar record in fundraising. USF opened a $750,000 student-athlete center last fall and recently the university had announced plans for a $40 million football center. USF athletics had its highest-ever annual fundraising total every in 2016-17, according to his USF bio, which eclipsed the previous high by 300 percent.

While at UCLA, Harlan oversaw the men’s basketball program, athletic department development communications, marketing, ticket sales, sponsorships as well as multimedia rights. Harlan also helped raise $125 million while with the Bruins in annual fund and campaign gifts. He also helped steer the completion of a $137 million campaign to renovate famed Pauley Pavilion in 2012 and had a voice in negotiating with the city of Pasadena for an eventual $200 million renovation of the iconic Rose Bowl stadium.

“I’m extremely pleased to welcome Mark Harlan back to the Pac-12,” said Harlan’s former boss, UCLA AD Dan Guerrero. “Having worked with Mark for a number of years when he oversaw external affairs at UCLA, I know firsthand what an excellent hire this is for Utah. Mark is a great communicator, and a person and an administrator of high integrity. He and his family will be a tremendous addition to the Utah community. I look forward to working with him in the conference.”

Hill told The Tribune in the weeks before he left that he was close to raising the $20 million of the necessary $25 million in expansion for Rice-Eccles Stadium. Harlan’s stellar history as a fundraiser might’ve played a role in him getting the job, while many considered Utah associate athletic director and Hill protege Kyle Brennan, the frontrunner for the position.

Before stints at USF and UCLA, Harlan worked at his alma mater in Tucson at the Arizona and also served as an associate athletic director at both San Jose State University and the University of Northern Colorado.

Harlan in December 2016 hired former Texas football coach Charlie Strong, who guided the Bulls to a 10-2 record in 2017. The Bulls have gone 29-9 the last three seasons.

According to a Tampa Bay Times report, Harlan will owe USF $262,500 — an amount equal to half of his new base salary from an extension he signed in late April — as part of a contract stipulation if he resigned prior to July 1, 2020.

Harlan’s annual salary at USF was $525,000. He received a $25,000 raise as part of the extension, which ran through the end of the 2020-21 academic year.