After a year away, Mark Karen is returning to Gwinnett County.
The former North Gwinnett coach and administrator was announced Friday as the new athletic director and head boys soccer coach at Dacula. He replaces DeRick Dunnigan, who filled the Falcons' AD job after longtime football coach/AD Kevin Maloof retired, and boys soccer coach Mike Burrell, who was hired for the same position at Collins Hill.
Karen, who left North last year to become AD at Hilton Head (S.C.) High, recently interviewed with "10 to 12" schools in Gwinnett or the surrounding area for coaching, teaching and administrative jobs, but decided the best fit was Dacula.
"After a year away, this was just in the best interest of my wife's career and my career," Karen said. "We're both in education and we're both leaving in good terms here. We both had secure jobs here. But it was just the best choice for us to come back."
Karen, whose wife was hired Friday as a teacher at Mountain Park Elementary, spent 11 years at North, the last five as AD. He won 2009 girls cross country and 2010 girls soccer state titles as a head coach as both of those programs grew into state powers under his leadership.
The decision to leave Gwinnett County Public Schools last year was tough — the Parkview grad had been affiliated with GCPS since he moved here as a fourth-grader — wasn't easy but he wanted to give the opportunity a shot. But things didn't work out as he hoped in Hilton Head.
Though he had nothing but praise for his high school and its staff, the district was another story.
"We had philosophical differences on how to run an athletic program," Karen said. "Those differences were outside the school."
One of Karen's first jobs is filling Dacula's last major vacancy — head girls basketball coach. He also sold his previous home in Gwinnett, so he and his wife will be house hunting soon.
While he'll be in a new high school and new home, Karen will at least be in a familiar school system.
"Gwinnett's obviously a great school system, a model school system that others try to follow," Karen said. "I'm fortunate to be back."