After serving as interim athletic director for four and a half months, Erick Harper was chosen by the university to be the school’s new, full-time athletic director.
Harper was formally introduced by UNLV president Keith Whitfield on Wednesday in front of a room full of UNLV administrators, athletics staff, and coaches.
Whitfield announced Harper as the school’s 14th athletic director on Jan. 3 after Harper had spent the last nine years as a senior associate athletics director for development.
“He provides a strong connection between UNLV athletics and the community, and has a clear vision for our program going forward,” Whitfield said at Harper’s introductory press conference. “For all of those reasons, and more, we like that he’s the right individual to lead UNLV athletics.”
UNLV conducted a national search to find its new athletic director. Whitfield said many quality candidates applied for the position, which made the search “very tough, but good.”
But at the end of the day, Harper’s familiarity with UNLV, and relationships with the school and community made him stand out as the school’s choice as athletic director.
“We will have a culture of perseverance built on trust, empathy, compassion, care, growth, and accountability,” Harper said. “We will have a championship culture that embraces a dedication to ensuring our student-athletes graduate, win championships, and excel at all levels.”
As Las Vegas continues to grow as a sports city with the influx of professional sports teams, Harper will have the challenge of growing UNLV athletics’ presence in town as other sports options become available to Las Vegas residents.
Instead of looking at it as a competition between the other teams, Harper sees it as an opportunity to work with them to develop strong relationships and succeed as one.
“If we can sit in a room (with the other sports teams in town), and have a collaborative conversation, and build and have our mindset to be thinking about the community of Las Vegas, and not each individual winning in a battle, I think as one, we can do great things,” Harper said.
Harper was asked about his vision for the UNLV football team that has done 2-16 in the last two seasons. He stressed the importance of consistency, as he noted his years of experience working with Kansas State and Arizona football in his previous jobs.
He gave his full support of Marcus Arroyo and what his staff is building through the strong recruiting classes they have built.
“My vision with that is to lock arms with coach Arroyo and help him make sure that he has everything he needs to be successful,” Harper said. “And he’s on the right track. I believe he’s on the right track to get that done. And I’m excited about this coming year in 2022.”
Another important issue Harper must navigate is student attendance at football and men’s basketball games.
Harper said someone texted him a video from 2012 of a full Thomas & Mack Center, and a packed student section cheering on the Rebels. Harper said that the video was really impactful and that “it’s time to get back to that.”
He said the school is working with its partners to do giveaways and other promotions targeted towards students to get them out to games.
But more importantly, Harper said that he will showcase the student-athlete’s performance on the field of play. And that he and his staff will knock on dorms and meet with students to help the relationship between the students and UNLV athletics.
One of Harper’s biggest goals in his new role is to engage the campus community and Las Vegas community in a way that he said has never done before.
“We want to make sure that we continue to build our brand, create a way that everyone wants to be a part of UNLV,” Harper said. “Not come here to leave, come here to stay, and become rooted in this community and just be a part of what we want to do every single day.
“When we take care of our house, everything else takes care of itself. We will take care of our house.”