MORAGA — Mark Orr is the boy wonder of athletic directors, taking over at Saint Mary's College in March at the precocious age of 29.

Orr is believed to be the youngest NCAA Division I athletic director, having replaced Patrick Lyons, who was 30 when hired at Iona last year.

There's no hiding Orr's age. He looks young enough to be taking classes at Saint Mary's or to be asked for his ID at a local tavern.

Orr succeeded Carl Clapp, who's now a senior administrator in athletics at the University of Hawaii after overseeing football's elimination in Moraga.

Orr, a former Cal defensive back, spent nearly six years under Clapp, gaining the necessary experience that elevated him into his present position.

Recently, he talked about his good fortune, his attitude about resurrecting football, his vision for Gael athletics, and how does someone become an AD at 29.

Q. You still look like an undergraduate. Have Saint Mary's students mistaken you for someone in their biology class?

A. I haven't had those questions yet. But I'm sure you'll see my energy permeating the (athletic) department. That's very important, enjoying what you do. What could be better?

Q. Tell the truth: Have you been carded lately?

A. Not in a long time.Q. What kind of player were you at Cal?

A. I played for three different coaches: Keith Gilbertson, Steve Mariucci and Tom Holmoe. The best way to describe my career was injury-filled.


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I had two reconstructed knee surgeries, one on each knee, and a ruptured patella tendon on my left knee as a senior.

I wasn't a starter. I played on nickel and dime packages and on special teams. I played in the 100th Big Game and the 1996 Aloha Bowl with Tony Gonzalez and Pat Barnes. Being injured allowed me to broaden my horizons. I interned in the athletic department, learning about athletic administration and the Cal Athletic Learning Center. I then did work in Cal's compliance office and got a master's degree at Cal in education.

Q. How did you rise up the ladder at Saint Mary's so quickly?

A. I was Carl Clapp's first administrative hire. I started as an assistant athletic director for student support services. I handled all of our NCAA eligibility issues, some compliance duties, community service programs. Then I went into an athletics business and finance position. We had approximately a $9 million athletic budget, on the same level as Santa Clara's. It's a different financial model for Cal, Stanford and San Jose State. Then I became an assistant associate athletic director. And here I am.

Q. What's it like being possibly the youngest AD?

A. It's not something I really thought about until the day of the press conference (March 28). It is a good thought, though. It happened fairly quickly. I've worked hard at Saint Mary's, and I have a passion for the college and the student-athletes here.

Q. What's your first compelling order of business?

A. Back in March 2004, the college developed a new strategic plan, in three different phases: Adding grant-in-aids for our 14 intercollegiate men's and women's programs; increasing staffing and operational budgets; and improving facilities. We've pretty much implemented the first two.

Q. Will you be a hands-on AD?

A. You will find me hands on and with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. The coaches and athletes will see me trying to provide students with a positive experience.

Q. Few new ADs leave things status quo. Should some Gaels coaches be nervous?

A. I served on every committee that hired these coaches. Although this is a new role for me, I have very good relationships with our coaching staffs. I feel, together, we will build strong, competitive programs at Saint Mary's.

Q. Yes, but one day you might fire someone you hired. How thick is your skin?

A. My skin is thick. We've had our ups and downs here the last six years. I've been burned for a touchdown as a defensive back. Making tough decisions, being accountable for what I do, I feel comfortable.

Q. Saint Mary's reputation is that of a steppingstone for basketball coaches. Lynn Nance left for Washington, Ernie Kent for Oregon. Do you worry about Randy Bennett leaving?

A. I don't see Saint Mary's as a steppingstone in any way. Randy enjoys the people here. I feel we have a good relationship. We've given him an extension through 2011.

Q. But will Bennett be Saint Mary's coach in six years?

A. I would hope so. I would hope that he would want to continue to build the basketball program here. I believe he does.

Q. Do you, the boy wonder, envision leaving one day yourself?

A. If you look at my background, at the Christian Brothers schools I attended and my six years here, I love the college, the people, the traditions. I can't imagine me out looking for something else.

Q. Saint Mary's dropping football after the 2003 season left a bitter taste with many Gaels supporters. Any thought of bringing it back?

A. At this time, I'm committed to the strategic plan as it was adopted in March 2004. And that doesn't call for any more programs.

Q. Were you personally disappointed to see it go?

A. I'm not sure of the ins and outs. The task force made the decision. I believe the strategic direction the college is going in is the right direction.

Q. Where do you hope to take Saint Mary's in sports?

A. The over-arching goal is we want to compete for championships in the West Coast Conference.

Q. What's the best advice you've received on how to be an effective AD?

A. Don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and work. Also there are going to be good days and bad days. But enjoy what you do, put a smile on your face, and that the day you lose your passion for the job is the day you shouldn't be doing it. And I have a passion for it.