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Karlgaard to lead Rice athletics

By Molly Chiu     9/11/13 7:00pm

President David Leebron announced Joe Karlgaard as the new Rice University director of athletics. Karlgaard will take over the position Oct. 7, according to a Rice News and Media release.

Karlgaard comes to Rice from Stanford University, where he is currently serving as the senior associate athletics director for development, according to the release. He has previously served as the athletics director at Oberlin College in Ohio from 2005 to 2011.

"I'm highly optimistic about what Rice can do," Karlgaard said at a Sept. 9 news conference. "I'm not one of those people who believes that academic values and athletic excellence are mutually exclusive. At Stanford, we've done a very good job at that, but I want Rice to form its own identity. And I'm here to collaborate with all of our coaches, our community and our supporters to find a way to get that done."

Karlgaard received his undergraduate degree from Stanford. During his time as an undergraduate, he competed in Stanford's track and field program. He later earned a doctorate in educational policy and administration from the University of Minnesota. He went on to coach Minnesota's men's track and field and cross country teams, according to the release.

Karlgaard said he has a vision for athletic excellence at Rice. He said he wants to bring the type of national success to each program that the baseball and, more recently, women's tennis programs have seen.

"If your aspirations are lower than that, then I don't think that really squares with the values of a place like Rice and what it's trying to do academically," Karlgaard said.

Leebron convened a committee to search for a new director in July, according to an email he sent to the campus community. Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby served as the committee chair. 

Other members of the committee included chairman of the Rice board of trustees Bobby Tudor, President of the Houston Texans Jamey Rootes and two student-athletes - Brown College senior Gabe Baker and Hanszen College junior Natalie Beazant - according to Leebron's email.

Leebron said that when looking for a new director, he wanted to find someone who was devoted to the welfare of student-athletes and who had a passion for athletic achievement.

"[We wanted someone with] a belief and optimism that Rice, in everything it does, including athletic endeavors, can succeed at the very highest level," Leebron said.

Leebron said he thought Karlgaard's background at Stanford would serve Rice well.

"[Stanford has] one of the greatest athletic programs in our country," Leebron said. "It was [Stanford's] level of ambition that we wanted to bring to our program at Rice."

Baker, a football player and member of the selection committee, said he appreciated that Karlgaard can empathize with what it is like to be a student-athlete.

"[Karlgaard] has ... personal experience with understanding the student-athlete perspective and the dynamics of competing at a high level athletically and in the classroom," Baker said.

Baker said the committee hoped Karlgaard would be a good representative and spokesperson for Rice on the national stage.

"We want a strong face for the university who will show that we're not just a great academic school, but that we have athletic prowess as well," Baker said.

Women's swim team member Taylor Armstrong said that when she and many other student-athletes met Karlgaard, he was charismatic and conversation flowed easily.

"I met [Karlgaard] once for 10 minutes, and not only did he seem extremely friendly and personable, but also approachable and relatable," Armstrong, a sophomore, said. "He urged us to come up to him whenever we saw him just to chat, and he tried to learn all of our names right off the bat. So far, I am loving what I see. I look forward to the future years for our Rice Owls."

Rick Mello, who has been acting as interim director since July, will continue in the position until Karlgaard takes over in October.

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