Franco Bari has strong ties to Minnesota, but the closest he had ever gotten to Duluth prior to this summer was when he attended the Herb Brooks Minnesota Hockey School in Brainerd as a middle schooler.
Bari quickly realized, when it comes to hockey, Minnesotans know their stuff.
“Absolutely outstanding,” he said.
Fast forward to Tuesday, and Bari was named St. Scholastica’s new athletic director, replacing Brian Jamros, who resigned in April after spending the last two years at the school.
Bari (pronounced BAR-ee), 43, comes to Duluth after being at his alma mater, St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., since 2008, including serving as assistant athletic director since 2012.
“It wasn’t really a goal, but I certainly feel prepared to be an athletic director,” Bari said. “Overall, the opportunity to be an athletic director at an institution that I believed in — there are numerous athletic director positions available and open right now — but I think this was more attractive to me because we have shared values.
“I was really impressed with the success of the athletic programs, and I was really impressed with the commitment and personality of the coaches, and the support from the St. Scholastica community. It really felt like a perfect fit.”
St. Scholastica women’s hockey coach Jackie MacMillan agreed. MacMillan was the only coach on the search committee and said there were about 70 applicants, with three coming on campus for interviews.
“Franco really displayed his true nature, and academically and athletically, at the end of the day, he was ultimately the best fit for helping us take that next step,” MacMillan said. “One of the things he’s walking into is a really strong athletic program. He’s got a good thing to start with, and now he can hopefully take us to that next level to where we’re competing at a national level.”
The Saints’ athletic program can almost operate on autopilot. Going into her 10th season, MacMillan is actually one of the newer head coaches on the staff.
St. Scholastica is coming off its 10th straight UMAC Jerome Kruse All-Sport Trophy that recognizes an athletic program for its all-around excellence, but that’s not to say there aren’t occasional stumbles.
St. Scholastica football and baseball are examples. St. Scholastica football captured five straight conference titles from 2011-15 while advancing to the NCAA Division III playoffs, but the Saints haven't been back since. CSS baseball, meanwhile, has had a stranglehold atop the UMAC for more than two decades but has been knocked out of the conference tournament — and therefore missed the NCAA playoffs — the past two years. The Saints' goals go beyond conference play.
“I don’t want to say there are challenges, but there are certainly things we can get better at,” MacMillan said. “I think Brian did a really great job in the past two years of setting the foundation for the next person to come in and have success. Franco is getting handed a situation where he can really take off and fly with it. We’re getting somebody who is energetic and can set a really good tone in our department.”
Bari, who was reached by phone Tuesday in Canton, will visit Duluth next week before returning to New York and working remotely until being back on campus Sept. 3.
Bari was born in Minneapolis but grew up in Rochester, N.Y. Both his older brother (Bemidji State) and sister (St. Thomas) went to college in Minnesota and live in the Twin Cities area. Bari also has extended family in the Gopher State and typically would visit twice a year.
“Minneapolis has been home away from home for me,” Bari said.
Bari played soccer, hockey and lacrosse in high school and excelled in soccer at St. Lawrence, earning all-conference honors four years and being named conference player of the year as a senior striker. He later played three years of semi-pro soccer and has more than 19 years of head coaching experience, including 10 years as the St. Lawrence head women’s soccer coach.
Bari is married to Mare MacDougall Bari, currently an assistant coach on the St. Lawrence women’s hockey staff, so he said this “will clearly be a two-part move.”
“The location, in terms of being close to family, was a very important aspect of my decision, but overall, I was very impressed with the community of St. Scholastica, and the people of St. Scholastica,” Bari said.
Bari said he presented a “100-day plan” during his interview with one of the goals being to build a good relationship with all 22 St. Scholastica varsity sports.
“In really consists of a lot of listening and communicating and learning more about the traditions of the programs and the expectations from the coaches and administration,” Bari said. “I plan to gain a better understanding of the successes and shortcomings, and understanding what it’s going to take to move the program in a positive direction. Then from there, we can start coming up with a strategic plan.”