Greg Harden retires after 34 years

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 - 1:50pm

Associate Athletic Director Greg Harden talks about making challenging life decisions at the TedxUofM Absolute Zero Conference at the Power Center last February.

Associate Athletic Director Greg Harden talks about making challenging life decisions at the TedxUofM Absolute Zero Conference at the Power Center last February. Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

After 34 years at Michigan, Greg Harden, who served as both executive associate athletic director and director of counseling has retired, Angelique Chengelis from the Detroit News reported Monday. Harden joined Michigan after being hired by Bo Schembechler 1986 and grew the prevalence of the mental well-being of athletes throughout his years at the University and established the importance of mental health to athletic achievement.

“So from the moment that our student athletes step on campus every year they participate in a multitude of different trainings,” assistant director of athletic counseling Abigail Eiler said in an interview with The Daily in April. “One is the high impact training, another is a welcome home event where a counseling team does a lot of psycho-education about taking care of themselves and utilizing that wholistic perspective — it’s not just your physical health, it’s your mental health, emotional health and beyond.”

Throughout his time in Ann Arbor, Harden has worked with athletes like Tom Brady, Desmond Howard, Jalen Rose and Michael Phelps to help them through rough periods of their lives, but has also worked with less high-profile athletes. His department doesn’t just show up to football practices, but they have counselors attend track meets, hockey games and other smaller sporting events.

“We will be working with teams on high performance,” Eiler said, “all the way up to working with students individually that are experiencing severe and persistent mental illness and so because there’s that spectrum there are so many different entry points.”

Desmond Howard said in a 2014 60 Minutes interview without Harden, he wouldn’t have won the Heisman Trophy during the 1991 season. Tom Brady, in an interview with the Detroit News, said Harden set him on a path to “Stop complaining and start doing.” His story is one that can be told by the hundreds of athletes he meets with a year, who claim he is the “unsung hero” of Michigan athletics.

Harden’s philosophy he bestowed on the athletes was to “control the controllables.” A simple mantra, it transcends sport into life, powerfully resonating with athletes who are struggling with something outside a field, court or rink.

While Harden is officially retiring this summer, it isn’t the first time he’s thought about it — Harden considered retirement in 2016, but with the hiring of new Athletic Director Warde Manuel, he stayed on for a couple more years to smooth out the transition. Now, he leaves behind a department that is larger and more vital to success than ever before.