BY JD PELEGRINO
On Oct. 31, 2017, Des Moines native Brian Hardin was announced as Drake’s next director of athletics. Hardin claimed the role on Dec. 11, 2017 as Drake’s seventeenth athletic director, succeeding Sandy Hatfield-Clubb who served as the University’s athletic director from 2007-2017.
This will be Hardin’s first Drake Relays since competing in them as an athlete in high school and college. He attended Valley High School, from which he graduated in 1998. During his time at Valley, Hardin had the opportunity to compete in two Relays on the Blue Oval of Drake University: his junior and senior years. In 1997 and 1998, he ran the 4×4, 4×2 and the distance relay medley, running in about 10 Relays races overall. He advanced to the finals in high school.
“The place was packed, because (former Olympic Sprinter) Michael Johnson was here, and that was my literal brush of greatness, when I literally ran into Michael Johnson moments before his 200-meter invitational,” said Hardin, remembering his first Relays in 1997.
Hardin snuck onto the back stretch of the track, which he claims nobody is supposed to do during a meet, to meet the former Olympian who set the world record in the men’s 200-meter in 1996. Hardin could not pass up the opportunity to meet his favorite athlete of the time.
By the time he realized he should be preparing for his own race, thirty minutes from the gun, he ran into his idol.
“I literally ran into a what I thought was a brick wall, and it was him. I fell down, and I looked up, and he’s 6’ 2” cut from granite, and he doesn’t even feel me,” Hardin said. “He just swatted me away like I was some fly, and he just kept walking to his blocks and got in, where he ran an amazing race.”
Hardin was raised around Drake and was born to compete in the Relays. Both of his parents are Drake alumni. Bob and Jan Hardin graduated with bachelor’s degrees from the School of Education in 1973. Bob teaches and coaches cross country at Valley High School in West Des Moines.
After high school, the Drake athletic director took his talents as an athlete and student to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about five hours from his childhood home. While enrolled at Marquette, Hardin worked as a student assistant in the sports marketing and sports information departments.
He competed in the same track events while attending Marquette. For his senior year, Hardin was elected captain of the team. Unfortunately, the teams Hardin was a part of throughout his four years at college never qualified for championships.
Immediately after graduation, Hardin interned for the sports information department at Loyola University of Chicago. The internship at Loyola-Chicago set him up to keep moving forward in his career. After the Loyola internship, he accepted another internship on the media relations team for the Chicago Bears. This internship led to a two-year stint with the Bears as the media relations coordinator from 2004-2006.
In July of 2006, Hardin left the Bears organization to become the director of football media relations at the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, Hardin worked with head coach Brian Kelly, players and assistant coaches while serving as the primary day-to-day liaison with the media. Hardin held interviews and helped with game day operations.
After six years at Notre Dame, in February of 2013, Hardin took on the role of deputy athletics director for external affairs at Ball State University. In this role, Hardin had oversight of the media relations, marketing, corporate relationships and ticketing departments. Just like at Notre Dame, at Ball State, he focused on a variety of sports as he was the primary sport administrator for the women’s cross country and track and field teams and men’s and women’s swim and dive programs. Hardin also worked closely with the both the football and baseball programs for a number of years.
“Under his guidance, Ball State enjoyed significant increases in overall attendance and ticket revenue in numerous sports. Highlights of the growth included dramatic progress in student support, thanks in large part to the development of a successful rewards program,” according to gomarquette.com.
In Hardin’s last five months at Ball State, he stepped into the role of interim director of athletics.
In June of 2015, Hardin returned to his alma mater, Marquette, to serve as the deputy athletic director. At Marquette he managed committees that supported the athletics department through revenue generation, community engagement, fan development initiatives and promotion of the department itself.
Hardin traveled back home to Des Moines, Iowa, in December 2017 to act as the director of athletics for Drake University. He has already made a large impact at Drake, bringing a new men’s basketball coach in April 2018, and is only working to improve Drake athletics even more. This will be Hardin’s first Relays since competing, but now from his role as athletic director.
“There’s just a different electricity at the Relays than at any other meet you’re at, whether it’s high school or college,” Hardin said. This appears to be a perspective shared by the athletes themselves.
Malik Metivier is currently a sophomore on the track team at Drake. He is a hurdler and is on the 4×4 team. According to Metivier, it is the atmosphere itself that makes the Drake Relays something unique.
“I can honestly say I just like being in that atmosphere, being around a lot of track fans, watching international and mid-collegiate track and field … there’s nothing better than that,” Metivier said.
As an athlete, Relays weekend is unforgettable.
“For that one weekend, we kind of get a sense of maybe what other football and basketball players at bigger schools feel like every time they step onto the court or field,” Hardin said.
However, the Drake Relays affects much more than the athletes competing. They provide fun for the local Drake community, Des Moines, students, family/friends of athletes and everybody in between. Hardin is particularly fond of the Drake Relays because of the people who contribute, show up and show support.
“To me it comes down to the people,” Hardin said. “It’s the people that help run the meet that are really knowledgeable that do a great job of getting things prepared … and the fans really appreciate and have a great knowledge of track and field. It’s the little things.”