’NCIS’: Mark Harmon Still Remembers This Piece of Advice ‘Maverick’ Star James Garner Gave Him

by Evan Reier

Learning in your career can be a tricky thing. For NCIS star Mark Harmon, choosing who you are learning from is just as important as what you study.

Harmon has had a varied and successful life. It’s easy to forget that the man behind Leroy Jethro Gibbs was also a starting quarterback for UCLA at one point in his life. Further, there was obviously quite a bit of time between his college days and his long-running work on NCIS.

Harmon appeared in several shows all throughout the 1970s before his first reoccurring-role successes with Flamingo Road and the smash-hit St. Elsewhere. In that time, he got to know some huge names in the industry, including one of Outsider’s favorite cowboys, James Garner.

Like many, the NCIS actor watched Garner craft an illustrious career spearheaded by his roles as James Maverick on Maverick and Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files. While there is much for actors to learn from Garner’s career, one sentiment stuck with Harmon.

Speaking to TVInsider in 2017, the NCIS star revealed the piece of Garner wisdom he still holds close.

“Choose your mentors carefully,” Mark Harmon said. “A big one for me was James Garner. That was the kind of career I wanted. Jim would always say, ‘I don’t care who’s the No. 1 guy in the business right now. That doesn’t last. I just want to be in that Top 10 for 30 years!’ For him, it was all about the long haul. I never forgot that.”

It’s safe to say Garner accomplished that. With NCIS still going strong and Harmon amassing a similarly illustrious career, it’s equally safe to say he did the same.

NCIS Star Mark Harmon Could Throw the Pigskin

Not only did Mark Harmon end up becoming the starting quarterback of one of the biggest colleges in the country, he did it the hard way. As Outsider writer Will Shephard detailed, Harmon didn’t have a single offer coming out of high school.

So he went to “juco.” The future NCIS actor went to Pierce Junior College, where he quickly impressed and finished with a 7-2 record. After sitting out on a bad 2-7-1 UCLA team, he took over the position in 1972.

Harmon provided an instant impact as the UCLA Bruins upset the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had just won back-to-back national titles. As any college football fan will know, passing the ball in that era was far less common, so most of Harmon’s production came on the ground.

He amassed 1,504 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, and added 845 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns to boot. The Bruins went 17-5 with Harmon as the QB.