1 of 2
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins introduces Mark Harlan as the new athletics director at a press conference at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Monday, June 4, 2018.

An open letter to Mark Harlan,

Congratulations on the new job as the University of Utah’s new athletic director. Welcome to The Hill (a nickname that has nothing to do with your predecessor, by the way). To help you get off to a good start, here are a few tips (and you’re welcome).

• Whatever you do, don’t put the U.’s offensive coordinator on speed dial. They have the shelf life of bananas. The football team has gone through so many OCs in the last decade that we’ve lost track, and anyway who’s counting (it’s nine).

• Memorize these names: E-c-c-l-e-s. H-u-n-t-s-m-a-n. You definitely want these people on speed dial. Maybe you’ve noticed their names on the side of buildings — Rice-Eccles Stadium, Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center, Huntsman Center, etc. Think of them as the Rockefellers of the university.

• You don’t realize it yet, but the greatest perk of your job is a parking space, which is as difficult to find as a win in Tuscaloosa. Apparently, the early planners of the U. campus expected people to walk to the games; nobody ever expected them to show up in those new-fangled whatchamacallits — automobiles. Parking is a nightmare. If you remedy the parking problem, they’ll put your name on a building, too.

• If basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak shows up in your office asking you to drop BYU from the basketball schedule again, run. That’s a big fat no. Last time he tried that stunt your predecessor went along with it and regretted it after dealing with all the fallout (lectures from the legislature, scolding from boosters, lots of bad press locally and nationally). One punch and the Utes had the excuse they wanted to take their ball and go home. Let’s put it this way: Since 1909, only two things have interrupted the BYU-Utah basketball series: World War II and Chris Hill.

• A lot of your fundraising efforts involve wining and dining. In Utah, it’s exactly the same, except you can skip the first part; it’s mostly just dining. A lot of the locals are more of a Coke crowd than Pinot noir. On second thought, just go with a box of Banbury Cross Donuts or pick up the tab at Marie Callender’s.

• The Utes are planning to expand their football stadium, again. That’s so yesterday. Look around — schools are reducing stadium capacity because they say they’ll actually make more money with fewer seats; instead, they are making it more “fan friendly” — for instance, wider seats for America’s ever-widening bottoms, as opposed to airline seats. Among those schools that have reduced or plan to reduce: USC, Stanford, North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Washington State, Arizona State, Ohio State, Penn State, Texas A&M, Kentucky.

• It’s nice to dream big, but you face one inherent challenge in the Pac-12 that will never change: Utah’s richest recruiting ground is also the backyard for Pac-12 rivals UCLA, USC, Cal and Stanford. Good luck with that.

• This is to say nothing of the challenge of recruiting in-state players against BYU. As former basketball coach Rick Majerus once said after losing a Mormon recruit to BYU, “I can’t recruit against God.” On the other hand, it’s not as difficult as it used to be. Oh, by the way, learn about this key recruiting ingredient: Returned missionaries.

• Whatever you do, the A.D. shouldn’t get in a fight with Kyle Whittingham. Last time that happened, it didn’t go so well: several top assistants bailed out immediately and went elsewhere. As you know, any ranking of college sports would look something like this: 1. football; 2. spring football; 3. football signing day; 4. speculation about football; 5. basketball.

• If you want to have an elite Pac-12 athletic program, how can Utah be one of only two Pac-12 schools (and the only in-state school) without a men’s track and field team?

• When you signed up to become Utah’s A.D., you automatically became a gymnastics fan. No, really. It’s a big deal at Utah. The Red Rocks, they call them. If you didn’t love it before, you do now. You’ll have to learn what triple froot loops and greasy axels are — no, wait, that’s figure skating, right?

32 comments on this story

• Fix this: Utah hasn’t played Utah State on the football field since 2015 and has not put the Aggies on any future schedule. After 112 meetings, the series is dying, if not already dead. Meanwhile, the Utes are teeing up games against Fresno State, Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Weber State, Idaho State, Montana State and Southern Utah. It’s a similar story in basketball, where the Utes won’t play Utah State but will play Prairie View A&M, Montana Tech, Mississippi Valley State, Northwestern State, and Eastern Washington (all last season). For the fan, those games are about as fun as Bronco Mendenhall.