Joe Haklin is happy to be back.
The new Wabash athletics director is a Wabash man himself — a member of the class of ‘73 — and couldn’t resist the chance to come back to head up the Little Giants’ athletics department.
“I had a terrific time here as a student and as an athlete,” he said. “I went my merry professional way around the country and worked at a lot of different schools at different levels. When the opportunity came along to come back here, I jumped at it and applied for the job. I’m happy to say I’m coming back home to a place that was very special to me back then and continues to be special to me now.”
Haklin became the AD at Marian University in 2005, overseeing a department that went from not having a football team, to having a football team qualify for the NAIA Championship Series.
But now it’s back to Wabash, where he’s been on the job for three days.
“I’m learning a lot,” he said. “I just went through a series of meetings with administrators, so I’m learning about different units on campus. I’m re-entering Wabash at a time of growth.”
And a time when many Little Giants teams are coming off successful seasons.
“The last two years in terms of our conference performance, almost across the board, has been outstanding,” he said. “(Former athletics director) Tom Bambrey has left me with a full deck. It’s my job to keep it rolling in that direction. It’s a really good time to be re-entering the Wabash community.”
Haklin first came to Wabash as a 17-year-old from Chesterton High School. He said he began to relive some of those memories of his student years when he came to Crawfordsville to interview for his new job.
“I had some flashbacks to earlier times, times when I was a student going to history class or bio lab or coming over here to participate (in sports),” he said. “I think it is an advantage. I’m coming home.”
But he’s coming home to a Wabash campus that has gone through many changes since he graduated. Byron P. Hollett Little Giant Stadium was there during Haklin’s undergrad days, but most of the other athletic facilities are new.
“I played my baseball career down at Mud Hollow,” Haklin said. “Now we have a brand new baseball field completed this spring. We’re putting the finishing touches on a brand new soccer field and a really nice sodded intramural field next to it. I just came into my first construction meeting and it was exciting. The projects are well on their way. It’s exciting because I’ve probably been on most small college campuses in the Midwest, and the facilities here are competitive with anyone in the country. It’s our job to keep them looking good and use them to attract the next generation of Wabash student athletes.”
Before taking on administrative duties at Marian, Haklin was the head basketball coach at Kalamazoo (Mich.) College from 1987-2002 and became the second winningest coach in program history. He also coached men’s golf.
Before his tenure with the Hornets, Haklin was an assistant basketball coach with Division II Wayne State in Detroit and Division I Western Michigan.
“I’ve had a variety of experiences in a variety of settings,” he said. “Hopefully those experiences will help me mentor this staff.”
With his wealth of experience as a coach, Haklin feels he is in a position to help Wabash coaches succeed.
“The perspective I bring to the job is an important one,” he said. “I’ve been where these guys are at in terms of recruiting to a highly competitive, highly rated academic institution and trying to forge competitive teams within that institution. I think I understand what they’re going to go through in the recruiting process. It’s labor intensive. It can be extremely exhilarating to land the young men that you want to land to join your program, or it can be extremely disappointing when it doesn’t work out and they go and join a different school. Having been there for upwards of 25 years, I think that perspective is going to help me.”
But while Haklin will be there to help Wabash coaches, he will not step in and tell them how to coach. He sees his role as creating an environment in which the coaches can succeed.
“I will not be a micro-manager,” he said. “Creating an environment where they can thrive is my primary goal. I’m not going to be looking over their shoulder at practices or checking out their practice schemes or game strategies. I’ll be living and dying with them because I want to see Wabash succeed. My role will be as a mentor, someone they can bounce ideas off of.”
Haklin wants to see Wabash teams do well, but as a former coach, he finds the preparation to be the exciting part.
“You learn on a daily basis and watching that growth from where you start day one to the final day of the season,” he said. “That is what we’re really all about. The score will take care of itself. The records will take care of themselves, our NCAA post-season appearances will take care of themselves if we’re doing our job on a daily basis. That’s the exciting part for me.”