MARQUETTE - As Northern Michigan University's Interim President David Haynes spoke with coaches, administrators and staff members inside the Wildcat athletic department, a common theme emerged during his two-plus week vetting of new athletic director Forrest Karr.
The man was the total package.
Karr had an understanding of NCAA rules and regulations. He understood the business side of college athletics. He had experience in branding and marketing. He had a strong reputation as an active community member.
Matt Granstrand, NMU soccer
Northern's new AD is also a former collegiate athlete and coach, and that kind of experience is invaluable, Haynes said.
"Not only here, but I heard it at other universities as I talked to other presidents and other athletic directors and staff around the country that I could call upon," Haynes said. "That's an important part of it because they understand what it means to be an athlete."
When Karr officially takes over as Northern's new athletic director on June 11, he'll not only bring seven years of athletic director experience from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but four years of ice time as the goaltender for the University of Notre Dame, where he was a four-time letter winner.
During his senior season of 1998-99, Karr backstopped the Fighting Irish to a 19-14-5 record while being named the team MVP. He also landed on the CCHA All-Academic Team and COSIDA Academic All-American second team.
NMU women's soccer coach Matt Granstrand said all three candidates - Karr beat out North Dakota associate athletic director Sean Johnson and Case Western Reserve athletic director David Diles - were more than qualified, but Karr's NCAA playing experience is what set him apart.
"For me, personally, he's played, he's been there, he's been an athlete. As a coach, to me, that's an extra benefit to have someone you can talk to that has been there. I'm excited to have him," Granstrand said.
"If you've been there, done that, know the ups and downs, know playing time versus not playing time, earning your spot, all of that is growth and it helps you relate better with the athletes and the coaches as well because you've been there."
After a short stint in the ECHL during the 1999-2000 season with Jacksonville Lizard Kings and South Carolina Sting Rays, Karr got into coaching.
From 2000-01, Karr was a graduate assistant coach for U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and from 2001-04, he served as the goaltending coach for the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team.
NMU head hockey coach Walt Kyle, who was also a member of the AD search committee, said Karr's candidacy immediately piqued his interest, but Kyle's heightened interest had nothing to do with Karr's previous playing and coaching experience in hockey.
What got Kyle excited was Karr's experience the past seven years as athletic director at UAF.
Kyle said many times he witnessed Karr argue on the same side of the table as former athletic director Ken Godfrey and interim athletic director Steve Reed in CCHA meetings and again during talks concerning the makeup of the WCHA come 2013-14.
"For us moving into this new league, it was critical that we got an athletic director that understood college hockey and understood the dynamics of college hockey," Kyle said. "We couldn't have found a better fit as we talked about with a guy that is coming from a hockey program so similar to ours.
"The decisions that are going to have to be made moving forward in the next two or three years about our new league, about the finances involving the new league, the playoff structure, the scheduling, those are critical decisions. To have a guy represent you that doesn't have an understanding of how that works and how that needs to work would not have been a good thing."
Despite having such a strong hockey background, Kyle and Granstrand both called Karr a well balanced athletic director who is inclusive of all sports. That perception comes not only from what Karr said during his presentation in April to the university, but the attention he paid to sports such as rifle and swimming in Fairbanks.
NMU head football coach Chris Ostrowsky has witnessed Karr's enthusiasm for other sports first hand with the new athletic director already working on securing a home opener for the 2013 season against an NCAA Division II opponent.
Ostrowsky said he was initially concerned with Karr coming from a university - UAF - that did not field a football team, however, those fears were quickly diminished.
"I'm excited about him," Ostrowsky said. "He's going to bring a lot of energy and passion to the position. I think there are a lot of similarities between myself and Forrest in terms of where we are at this junction in our careers. I think it's a great, great step for us as a program.
"I think he is going to do great things for us as a football program, but I also think he's going to do great things for us as a department."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.