By Scott Goode, assistant athletic director for sports information
In January of 2020, former Harding athletic director Greg Harnden learned that NCAA Division II Athletic Directors Association selected him to receive its highest honor — the DII ADA Lifetime Achievement Award — to recognize his outstanding career at the University.
For Harnden, it may feel like another lifetime before he actually receives the award. He was to accept the award at a ceremony in Las Vegas in June as part of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention. But due to COVID-19, organizers canceled the convention. The new plan is for a ceremony in Orlando, Florida, as part of the 2021 NACDA convention.
“Waiting to receive the honor is really no big deal,” Harnden says. “The big deal is for Harding. The award just shows what Dr. Burks and Dr. McLarty have allowed us to do to build up the program and allow us to have the success we have had in Division II. And besides, we still get to go to a nice place like Orlando.”
Under Harnden’s direction, Harding won its first Gulf South Conference Men’s All-Sports Trophy during the 2010-11 school year and captured the 2016-17 Great American Conference All-Sports Trophy. As athletic director, Harnden added women’s soccer, men’s soccer, women’s golf and softball. Harnden oversaw the renovation of several athletic facilities. He also helped facilitate the move from the NAIA to the NCAA as well as the transition from the Gulf South Conference to the current home in the Great American Conference.
Women’s soccer coach Dr. Greg Harris spoke for many who worked with Harnden during his time as AD, saying, “The most important thing about Coach Harnden in my eyes is the care and support he has for his coaches, especially their families. He has celebrated with us, prayed with and for us, and cried with us when things were tough. You don’t always get that from your boss.”
Before assuming his role as athletic director, Harnden served eight years as head coach of the successful Lady Bison basketball team. He led the Lady Bisons to the NAIA national tournament in 1996 and 1997 with a 153-91 overall career record.
During his career, Harnden served as inaugural chairman of the GAC Committee of Athletic Administrators and chair of the Gulf South Conference Committee of Athletic Directors. He also represented the GAC on various regional advisory committees and Division II on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee.
Harnden says one of his favorite times as athletic director came early on with the opening of the renovated Rhodes Field House in 1997.
“I loved seeing it packed game after game, and the excitement it created on campus,” Harnden says.
Harnden also cited the success that Harding’s teams more recently have had at the regional and national levels with softball coming within one out of the College World Series and women’s basketball and football reaching the national semifinals.
“Another of the unusual things about Harding is that we have always had a lot of coaches and staff who came and stayed, so I got to work with them my entire time as AD,” says Harnden. “That certainly made my life a lot easier.”
The impact Harnden left upon the University is sizable and goes far beyond the success experienced by the school’s athletic programs. In his role as athletic director, he mentored thousands of student-athletes and served as coach to his department’s staff. Additionally, his reach extended beyond the Harding sphere as an incredible resource to other administrators in the GAC.
“After his many years of service, it is only right that Greg is being honored for his work. Not only was he a leader, but he had the ability to be the calming voice of reason to get things accomplished,” voiced Chris Ratcliff, DII ADA president and Rogers State University director of athletics. “Under his leadership, Harding University grew leaps and bounds, not only becoming a national contender, but with the addition of sports and an affiliate change, Greg never skipped a beat, providing continued compassion for all of those at Harding University.”
The attribute most associated with Coach Harnden is integrity. His actions and leadership in 21 years as Harding’s athletic director have followed the school’s role to create servant-leadership.
The attribute most necessary for those wanting to honor Harnden is patience. But someday, hopefully summer 2021, he can finally take home his award.