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USF hires Mark Harlan as new athletic director


After a private two-month process where no names were released apart from pure speculation, Mark Harlan was finally revealed to fans as the new athletic director of USF last week.

Before the media frenzy following his announcement to join USF, Harlan, who will earn $500,000 a year,  served, and will continue to serve until April, as UCLA’s senior associate athletic director of external affairs.

With football ending when the No. 17 Bruins (10-3) won the Sun Bowl over Virginia Tech months ago, the only thing keeping Harlan on the West Coast is UCLA’s men’s basketball team, which took an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament after being crowned champion of the PAC-12 conference with a 26-8 record.

Harlan joined the UCLA staff in 2010 where he is credited with success in fundraising as he oversaw “all facets of development, marketing, promotion, branding, licensing, sports information, alumni relations and ticket sales” according to UCLA’s website.

Among helping secure a new 30-year lease and a $200 million renovation of the historic Rose Bowl Stadium, Harlan also played a role in the
$132 million renovation of Pauley Pavilion.

In his short time with the Bruins, the football and men’s basketball team hired former NFL coach Jim Mora and former NBA player Steve Alford.

Since Mora’s hiring in 2012, the Bruins went 9-5 followed by this year’s 10-3 season. Alford was hired in 2013, and this year UCLA is in the NCAA Tournament. 

Coincidentally, the Bruins beat the University of Arizona, the school that Harlan served at before UCLA and the school where he received a bachelor’s in political science and master’s in education, winning the PAC-12. 

At Arizona, Harlan held an even wordier position: the Senior Vice President for Central Development at the University of Arizona Foundation. There, he was in charge of university-wide annual giving, corporate relations, communication and marketing, donor services, gift planning and scholarships. Harlan helped the foundation to two record-setting years in dollars raised.  

Prior to Arizona, Harlan served as the Associate Athletic Director at San Jose State and Northern Colorado before that.

It was in his time at San Jose State that the football team won its first bowl game in 16 years in 2006. Ticket sales nearly doubled in 2005 and 2006 as Harlan overlooked two record-breaking years in revenue, not only for football but also in men’s soccer and women’s basketball.

Notable contributions in his time with Northern Colorado, beginning in 2004, included Harlan’s help with the schools transition to Division I with its membership in the Big Sky Conference.    

While nothing but Harlan’s successes have been spoken of, as with any new hire, he’s had his critics – particularly in 2011, a year after he was hired at UCLA.

Bruins Nation, a blog on SB Nation that could be compared to its USF counterpart Voodoo Five, published an article on Harlan in regards to the renovations of Pauley Pavilion. 

In a conceivably biased article titled “Lying Scumbag Mark Harlan – A History of Two-Faced Doublespeak for Dan Guerrero’s Pathetic Athletic Department,” Harlan is referred to multiple times as “Scumbag Mark Harlan,” referring to a popular Internet meme, Scumbag Steve. The blog also shows a picture of Harlan replacing Jim Carrey on the cover of the famous movie “Liar Liar,” essentially saying he lied about a student survey taken about the renovations and took advantage of student leaders who had a say in the renovations. 

As far as negative remarks, that seems to be the only
popular one directed at Harlan. Now, years after the criticism, Bruins fans should be happy with men’s basketball after taking the conference this season. But once March Madness ends for UCLA, Harlan should be in Tampa full-time.

When he comes to USF, Harlan will enter a mirror-like universe with a 2-10-football team and a 12-20-basketball team. While the Bruins sat in the middle of their conference when it came to attendance, the Bulls tailed their conference in both sports.

Harlan said he and his family want to make roots in Tampa and if everything he’s heard about the area is “straight up,” then it would be the perfect place to raise his children, 8-year-old Savannah and 5-year-old Austin, with his wife, Carolyn.

Just as it was when USF football coach Willie Taggart joined the Bulls in all smiles, only time will tell if Harlan’s successes will translate in Tampa.