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USF victim of its own success

USF athletic director Mark Harlan is in the third year of a five-year contract with the school, but will likely be targeted by Arizona in its search of a new athletic director. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Over the years, USF has grown accustomed to the coaching turnover often seen in Division I athletics. 

In the past, much of this instability was due to a lack of sustained success, something that can become difficult to hold onto outside of a Power-5 conference. In recent years, USF wound up stuck paying for several coaches it no longer employed like Jim Leavitt, Skip Holtz and Stan Heath. 

But, times are changing at USF.

Aside from the firing of men’s basketball coach Orlando Antigua to open the new year, USF’s coaches have been reversing the trend. 

With former football coach Willie Taggart gone to Oregon and former men’s soccer coach George Kiefer now employed by N.C. State, USF coaches are moving on to greener pastures for the first time. 

Soon, the man behind the reconstruction of USF athletics could join the growing list of athletic leaders on campus to make the jump to a Power-5 school. 

With Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne reportedly accepting the same position at Alabama, some in the media have pointed to USF athletic director and Arizona alum Mark Harlan potentially replacing Byrne in Tucson. 

Though Arizona has yet to make an announcement on how they will replace Byrne, it’s only a matter of time before Harlan hears from them.

But unlike the loss of coaches like Taggart or Kiefer, keeping Harlan on board is essential to the budding future of an athletics program going through a time of transition. 

Since being hired to replace Doug Woolard in the spring of 2014, Harlan oversaw a program turnaround that led to postseason success of nearly every team on campus. 

The crowning achievement in his tenure with the school has been the resurgence of the Bulls football team, which won a school-record 11 games in 2016 after winning only two games in 2013. 

Harlan also worked to extend the deals of both Taggart and women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez, along with hiring baseball coach Mark Kingston, who led USF to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. 

His most celebrated hire came this winter, when he swiftly agreed to terms with USF football coach Charlie Strong, who was let go from Texas at the end of the 2016 season. Along with adding Strong, Harlan has also launched studies to gauge the potential value of building an on-campus stadium.

The vision and direction that Harlan has used to steadily guide USF athletics cannot be overlooked and is sorely needed on Fowler Avenue. 

Even though there may not be much USF can do to compete with the money and power that a Power-5 school such as Arizona can offer, the school should make every effort to retain Harlan before it finds itself a victim of its own success.