On June 1, 2018, Utah hired Mark Harlan away from South Florida to serve as the new athletic director.

In the time since, Utah’s football program has cemented itself as a lasting power out West. The Utes played for a Pac-12 championship less than six months after he was hired, won 11 games the following season and played for another Pac-12 title, then in 2021 secured the program’s first conference championship and trip to the Rose Bowl.

While head coach Kyle Whittingham has been a staple at the program going back multiple decades, setting a foundation for success, Harlan has played a part in helping to elevate the program’s brand. In a recent interview with John Canzano, he said everyone at Utah is anxious to get right back to Pasadena.

“The whole experience was surreal for me and so many others,” he told Canzano. “I grew up going to UCLA games with my family at the Rose Bowl, so the stadium has always been hallowed ground. When I arrived at Utah in 2018 and met with Coach Whit for the first time, we spoke about what he needed from me and the administration to enable him the best chance to take a Utes team to the Rose Bowl. He was very clear, and we established the roadmap from there.

“For our fans, it was an unthinkable dream 12-15 years ago and fast forward, we secured the championship and got the golden ticket. Our supporters responded, literally emptying the streets of Salt Lake City to go to Pasadena or to watch it on television with family and friends. It was unlike anything I have ever been a part of. It is such a tribute to Coach Whit and the team that they created experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. At the end of the game, walking off the field with my family was something that I will never forget. Now, we all want to step foot there again soon.”

A key stepping stone on the path to that Rose Bowl appearance was a Nov. 20 meeting with Oregon at home. The Ducks entered ranked No. 4 in the country. Utah smashed them to pieces, 38-7. The Utes ran for 208 yards and four scores while holding the Ducks to 63 rushing yards.

“It was a night that had been circled on our calendars for months and our team simply played at an elite level that night,” Harlan told Canzano. “Oregon was a terrific team but, on that night, I’m not sure any team in the country could have beaten us.”

And just two weeks later, the Utes beat the Ducks again in the Pac-12 championship game, this time 38-10.

You can read the rest of Canzano’s interview with Harlan here.