After a 54-day search, the University of South Florida named UCLA’s Mark Harlan as it’s new Director of Athletics on Tuesday afternoon. Harlan will inherit a sports program that has had a spotty championship pedigree, yet still possesses tremendous potential.
Despite recent struggles in the largest revenue-generating sports – football and men’s basketball – Harlan biggest obstacle might be moving from an $80-million budget at UCLA to an institution that spends about half of that on athletics. He’ll have to do more with less. Which pretty much is the motto at USF.
Harlan said all the right things at his introductory news conference today.
“… honored to join the family …”
“We will work hard every day …”
“I can’t wait to get started.”
Now he has to do the right things. Instill fear in other conference foes that USF is on its way back. Become relevant on the national stage again. And do it all fairly and in the black.
USF was invited into Conference USA because of potential. Then asked to join the Big East because of that same potential. But now they reside in the American because they never fulfilled that potential. Had the Bulls put together double-digit wins in football and multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament in hoops, they would have been a hot commodity. After all, the combination of TV market, fertile recruiting, campus size and success is attractive to any conference.
Say what you want about Doug Woolard and the Jim Leavitt departure, the Skip Holtz era and the Stan Heath extension, but at the time they all looked like decent moves. What’s more important than anything is that Woolard got USF’s facilities done. And not just one sport – but all sports. The facilities on that campus were a joke by Division 1 standards. Now they’re elite, and he deserves all the credit.
Which brings us back to Mark Harlan. This might be the most important athletic department hire on the USF campus since Jim Leavitt. He has to lead USF back to the winner’s circle. He has to instill a sense of hope again. And maybe most of all, he has to bring fans back that have soured on the program.