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New athletic director highlights Bulldogs' strengths, and the challenges that lie ahead

UMD introduced new AD Forrest Karr on Thursday at Malosky Stadium. Karr brings 17 years of experience as an athletic director, and a unique sports law perspective to the ongoing changes in the NCAA.

Two men holding up a hockey jersey
New Minnesota Duluth athletic director Forrest Karr, left, and Minnesota Duluth interim chancellor David McMillan smile while posing and holding up a Bulldogs hockey jersey during Karr's introductory press conference Thursday inside Malosky Stadium on the UMD campus.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — During his introductory press conference Thursday inside the club room at Malosky Stadium, new Minnesota Duluth athletic director Forrest Karr recognized a couple of his mentors who had reached out Wednesday after it was announced he would take over leadership of the Bulldogs.

One of those mentors who texted him was Dave Poulin, who coached Karr when he was a goaltender at Notre Dame.

“I wrote to him, I was kind of joking,” said Karr, who posted a .899 save percentage during his senior season of 1998-99. “‘So it turns out that being a goalie was perfect preparation for being an administrator. You’re doing well if you can find a way to stop 90 percent of the potential negative outcomes that come your way.’”

A former goaltender at Notre Dame and volunteer goaltending coach for the Wisconsin women's hockey team, Karr brings almost two decades of experience leading NCAA Division II athletic departments that also feature NCAA Division I hockey programs.

Karr, who officially begins at UMD on Aug. 29, got some laughs at Malosky on Thursday, and said Poulin got a kick out of the response too. More importantly, Karr said his exchange with Poulin made him reflect on his own experience as a student-athlete with the Fighting Irish. He said it reinforced what he wants for the student-athletes at UMD.

A former volunteer goaltending coach with the Wisconsin women’s hockey team as well, Karr brings 17 years of experience leading multidivisional athletic departments. The previous 10 years were spent at Northern Michigan and the seven before that were at Alaska Fairbanks — two NCAA Division II schools that play NCAA Division I hockey, like UMD.

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Karr graduated with a business degree from Notre Dame and a law degree from Wisconsin. He clerked at the NCAA Office of Legal Affairs, as well as under former NFL Players Association executive director Ed Garvey.

After his introductory press conference on Thursday, Karr spoke with the News Tribune.

What was the toughest part of making the decision to move from Northern Michigan to Minnesota Duluth?

“Personally, the hardest part was, of course, telling our daughters. Professionally, I just feel like the (NMU) department is going to have a really, really strong year that I was looking forward to. Northern probably has either the best or one of the best returning student athletes in volleyball, men's basketball, women's basketball and hockey in their entire conferences. In the GLIAC and in the CCHA, I think the teams are going to have a lot of success starting right away this fall with cross country running, women's soccer and women's volleyball. They have teams that are going to be competing for GLIAC championships. I was looking forward to being part of that and working with those coaches, helping them be successful. That was hard, having built those relationships, having hired a lot of the coaches — telling them that I wouldn't be there on their side, supporting them this year. That was hard.”

 New Minnesota Duluth Athletic Director Forrest Karr
New Minnesota Duluth athletic director Forrest Karr gestures toward the windows, highlighting the view from the stadium, while standing at a podium inside Malosky Stadium on the UMD campus Thursday at his introductory press conference.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

When you look back at your time at Northern and Alaska, what were some of the biggest learning moments for you as an athletic director?

“There's so many, it would be hard for me to pick one. Every week you're learning a new lesson and every time you think you've seen it all, you realize you haven't. There's the saying out there that's like, ‘To know what you don't know is more than you know, that’s knowledge.’ That's how I kind of think about it. There's always a lot to learn. Whatever the situation is, I try to work through it thoughtfully and diligently and ultimately make a decision and go with it. If we make a mistake, we learn from it and don't make it again. So I've learned a lot over the years.”

You and former UMD AD Josh Berlo know each other pretty well. How much did you consult with him about this job?

“That was important for me, I asked Josh. I understood all the strengths on the surface, and I asked him to tell me what some of the challenges are, and we had some really good conversations. I realized that with all the work that he did, and the whole administrative team, and this incredible high achieving coaching staff, that this list of strengths and opportunities was just enormous. I was able to learn a lot about the departments and some areas, some opportunity areas. I just feel really good that I have a lot of information coming in with my eyes wide open with a lot of respect for the previous athletic director, and all of the accomplishments that have happened here. The people who have come before me have done an incredible job, they've created this foundation, and I get the opportunity now to try to continue that momentum and progress, and try to attain new heights. That's what's exciting about this job.”

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New Minnesota Duluth Athletic Director Forrest Karr smiles.
New Minnesota Duluth athletic director Forrest Karr smiles while standing at a podium and speaking to an audience inside Malosky Stadium on the UMD campus Thursday at his introductory press conference.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

College sports is going through a huge transformation period. The NCAA has its Transformation Committee. You have a unique sports law background. From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges that multidivisional schools like UMD or NMU are facing? What do they need to be aware of?

“The biggest challenge for schools like UMD throughout the Midwest, is enrollment. That impacts resources, which impact success. That's a broad university challenge that we have to be collaborative and creative and try to find ways to help with. I think in college sports, there's still some question about the definition of a student-athlete, or what some people are now referring to as a college athlete. We have the Alston decision (NCAA vs. Alston) in the Supreme Court that basically said the schools violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by conspiring together to limit what student athletes could receive tethered to education. Now schools are able to pay stipends for academic achievement, do all these different things. At the same time, separate from that, we have all the name, image and likeness stuff. Student-athletes are now able to benefit based on their right of publicity, and that's a good thing. That's a good thing for student-athletes, and it's really changed the opportunities that are out there. The other one, that's a big one, there's a case in Third Circuit Court of Appeals called Johnson vs. NCAA, where there's a direct challenge to whether student athletes should be able to be paid by universities as employees. If that case is successful, that would completely change the college sports model. At the same time, we have the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Jennifer Abruzzo, has said that we shouldn't refer to student-athletes as student-athletes, that you should use phrase like college athletes. There’s a lot of questions about what it's going to look like, this relationship between university and student-athlete, going forward. That could be transformative. I mean, that already is transformative, and could be even more so. So those are the kinds of things that you keep an eye on.”

Two men holding up a hockey jersey
New Minnesota Duluth athletic director Forrest Karr, left, and Minnesota Duluth interim chancellor David McMillan look at a Bulldogs hockey jersey that they held up during Karr's introductory press conference Thursday inside Malosky Stadium on the UMD campus.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

There’s a big event coming up at UMD in March. Amsoil Arena is hosting the 2023 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four. What are your thoughts on hosting a big event like that, which the NCAA is now pouring more resources into after the gender equity reports?

“We hosted the NCAA Rifle Championships in Fairbanks in 2007. It was a great experience. It’s very interesting. I’ve been researching the community, I’ve been studying the university, the athletic department, having all these conversations. I did not know about hosting the Frozen Four until I talked to (associate head women’s hockey coach) Laura Bellamy today a couple of hours ago. That was so exciting to hear that. I have to tell you, when I heard that, my mind just was racing because there’s just so much opportunity around that, to host a major national event like that here in Duluth. I had no idea the wheels are already turning and this is already in place. I’m just really looking forward to hopefully being able to add value and be creative and just really knock it out of the park.”

Karen Stromme and Gary Holquist
Longtime Minnesota Duluth administrators Karen Stromme, left, and Gary Holquist look on during the introductory press conference for new athletic director Forrest Karr on Thursday inside Malosky Stadium on the UMD campus. Both announced their retirement in May, but they are delaying their retirement to assist with the transition. Stromme stayed on as interim athletic director.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
MORE BULLDOGS SPORTS COVERAGE:
The Minnesota Duluth women's hockey program completed a season-opening sweep of Long Island in nonconference play, getting a big game from its 2022 Olympic gold medalist and captain, Ashton Bell.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA DULUTH BULLDOGS
Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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