Athletic director to retire from Harding after 31 years

By Kayla Baugh Published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

After 31 years of service at Harding University, athletic director Greg Harnden plans to retire from the position in August 2018.

Greg Harnden has dedicated much of his life to teaching, coaching and motivating his students to go further than they thought possible.

After 31 years of changing lives at Harding University in Searcy, Harnden has decided to retire in August 2018.

The decision came to him last month, he said, and he’s looking forward to seeing what comes his way after retirement.

“People say it just hits you when it’s time, and it really did for me. One Sunday all of a sudden, I turned to my wife and said, ‘I think I’m going to retire.’ That was that,” he said, laughing.

Harnden served at Harding Academy as the girls basketball coach for two years before becoming the women’s basketball coach and a math professor at Harding University.

He moved up to assistant athletic director while still coaching, he said, then became the athletic director in 1997.

“When the athletic director at the time retired, I had to decide if I wanted to stay and coach or be the athletic director. I felt like I needed to do one or the other. Since I didn’t want to coach until I was 70, I chose the athletic-director path, and it was a great decision,” he said.

Harnden said he gets emotional when he sees how Harding changes lives and sees his athletes achieve academic success, or more than which they thought they were capable.

Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Harnden has spent a lot of time traveling over the years.

Harnden met his wife, Susan, in the fifth grade while he lived in Kansas City.

They’ve been married for 49 years, he said.

“She transferred into the elementary school I was at, and we were in the same class in fifth grade. We never dated until our senior year in high school. From that point on, we were together until our senior year in college; then we got married,” he said.

He and Susan were high school sweethearts, he said, and nobody in the world knows him better than she does.

“There are no secrets,” he said.

Harnden said Susan has a love for kids and was an elementary school teacher for 23 years.

She currently works with the Department of Human Services and volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of White County, he said.

Harnden said the couple have two adult sons, Scott and Jay.

“She’s a kind, loving person. She did a great job raising the boys. I’m so much better because of her — I’m lucky,” he said.

Harnden graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, he said.

Harden said he taught math, coached girls basketball and served as athletic director at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, Colorado, after he and his family moved to the area from Kansas City when he was 30 years old.

He and his wife fell in love with Colorado while vacationing, he said.

“Our kids were 2 and 4, and we just loaded up the truck and moved,” he said.

Harnden said he moved to Searcy with his wife and their two sons in 1987 from Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

A typical week at work for Harnden involves talking to coaches and students, preparing for athletic activities, and attending conferences, meetings and games, he said.

Harnden said he’ll deeply miss his students after he retires.

“They keep you young; they keep you in touch with what’s going on,” he said.

“I’m going to miss seeing their successes, and I’m going to miss seeing how they handle it when things don’t go their way. This is my 49th year in education, so my entire working career has been around students.”

Harnden said he will also miss the coaches at Harding, as they are some of his best friends.

“We eat lunch together; we go to games together. A bunch of us will be at Harding Academy watching football because their kids play over there. I have great friends still in Colorado, but I have an unbelievable number of friends here in Searcy,” Harnden said.

Keeping in touch with them will be easy, though, he said, because he and his wife plan to stay in Searcy.

He’ll also miss the competition, he said, because he feels like he’s competing alongside the students and coaches each year.

The best advice Harnden had to offer students is to take care of their academics and make sure they earn a useful degree.

Many athletes come to college thinking they’ll be professional athletes, he said, and that doesn’t always work out.

“We all have passion for certain things, so a lot of times we go in that direction, but we can’t do much with it. Hopefully, you have a passion for your academic path, and it leads to something you can be successful at in life,” he said.

Harnden said people don’t tend to work at Harding unless they’re concerned about the servant and mission attitude of the students.

“You want to know that they’re really going to serve others and do something in this world to help other people and make the world a better place,” he said.

David Burks, a former president of Harding University, is someone Harnden said he looks up to.

Burks hired Harnden, and the two grew to become close friends, Harnden said.

“I watched him for 26 years and admire what he did for Harding, our student body and this community,” Harnden said.

Harnden said he enjoys traveling with his wife and collecting and riding motorcycles in his free time.

“I have had motorcycles since 1969. Among my best trips are going to Alaska in 2009 and 2013, and touring the Swiss Alps with my wife in 2003,” he said.

Harnden said he currently owns two motorcycles: a BMW and a Honda.

“Most of my motorcycles over the years have been BMWs. I just sold my Harley Street Glide,” he said.

Canada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Washington, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the Arctic Circle are a few of the places he’s traveled by motorcycle, he said.

“I’m blessed. I’ve never had a wreck and never been down on one,” he said.

He and his wife also travel to Hawaii often, he said, and it’s their favorite vacation destination.

Harnden said he wouldn’t change anything, but if he could go back in time, he’d be more responsible with his money.

Given the opportunity, Harnden said, he would also choose to be kinder at times and more patient.

“I’m very impatient, and I probably need more patience. I’ve learned that over the years and probably should have learned that a little earlier,” he said.

Janis Ragsdale, current international programs administrator at Harding, was named assistant athletic director in 2002 and said she worked alongside Harnden for 13 years.

Ragsdale described Harnden as approachable, highly respected and creative.

Harnden’s overall character is something Ragsdale said she admires.

“I never questioned his integrity. He’s a problem-solver and a people person. He’s always happy; he enjoys life and the outdoors,” she said.

Tim Kirby, the women’s basketball coach at Harding University, said Harnden is energetic and intelligent.

“He reminds me of my dad. Both are math teachers with a lot of common sense,” Kirby said.

Kirby and Harnden have worked together at Harding for 24 years, Kirby said, and attending NCAA Tournaments together and eating at Waffle House after games are memories he won’t soon forget.

Kirby said Harnden’s leadership has led the university to high levels of success.

“His relationships with coaches and student athletes are very special and personal,” he said.

“I’m very excited for him, but he will need to find something that allows him to get rid of some energy. I will miss him taking care of me. I’ve been able to get advice anytime I needed it.”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or

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