Warde Manuel, a former Michigan football player and UM athletics administrator, currently the Connecticut athletic director, has agreed to be Michigan’s next athletic director, according to multiple sources.
Manuel, 47, replaces interim athletic director Jim Hackett, the former Michigan football player and CEO of Steelcase, who took the job after Dave Brandon resigned on Oct. 31, 2014. In that time, Hackett hired Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and negotiated an apparel deal with Nike.
Details of the contract are being finalized.
Manuel is a former Michigan football player for legendary coach Bo Schembechler and then a track athlete when his football career was cut short by injury. In 1986, he was a teammate of Harbaugh. His lengthy resume includes not only work in Michigan’s athletic department, but more than 10 years of experience as an athletic director. He was Buffalo’s athletic director from 2005-2012 and then moved on to Connecticut.
He told the Hartford Courant on Wednesday he didn’t have a comment on the reports. Manuel and UConn president Susan Herbst attended a UConn Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday morning.
“It’s happy and sad for us,” Herbst told the Courant. “We’re incredibly proud of him, but he has brought a lot to UConn.”
Manuel did tell the paper he “never had a bad day” as UConn’s AD.
For those who worked with Manuel during his previous Michigan employment, what stood out was his integrity.
“I’m grateful for being the athletic director at UConn,” Manuel told the Courant. “No matter what the future brings I’ll always have a tremendous love and admiration for this university and this state.”
“He has more character, personality, style, and integrity than most of the people you’ll ever meet,” Greg Harden, Michigan associate athletic director and director of athletic counseling, told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “It’s hard to be that charismatic and personable and professional and be somebody that just puts a smile on your face. If you can be in a room with him and frown, you’re probably clinically depressed, because he brightens up a room and is an amazing leader. Always has been.
“Anybody who knows him, loves him.”
Yale Van Dyne, a former Michigan receiver and close friend of Manuel’s, spoke to Manuel on Wednesday morning and told him he is excited about this next step in his athletic administrative career.
“It’s a great transition for Michigan,” Van Dyne told The News. “My assumption is he’ll be a fantastic administrator, a guy who strategically will be behind the scenes making the right decisions, making the hirings and firings and will let Jimmy (Harbaugh) be Jimmy.
“It’s the perfect storm, if you will. I think it’s going to push Michigan back to where I think we all expect us to be from a winning perspective and winning the correct way. You’re bringing someone home who has the right personality characteristics and knows the traditions and the ins and outs and worked there for many years.”
They played together for Schembechler and have maintained a friendship for years, and Van Dyne said Manuel brings integrity to the job.
“If you look at where he’s from, his personal history, coming from humble beginnings, going to Michigan, which is clearly a far cry from New Orleans, and suffering the career-ending injury when he had a promising athletic potential and transitioned to academics and administration and flourishing every step of the way. Bo’s influence, I’m sure, is deeply embedded in who he is as a person.
“Personally, playing with him back in the day, he was the guy always making the right decisions when the rest of us were making wrong decisions, and he was vocal about guys making bad decisions. He’s a really good person. Integrity and loyalty are in play. That’s what I think Michigan needs. In addition to all those qualities, he also has the quality he wants to be the leader, but he’s not waiting for the paparazzi around the corner to talk to him and take his picture.
The story of Manuel’s landing the job was first reported by ajerseyguy.com, a blog written by former Boston Globe reporter Mark Blaudschun. Blaudschun also was the first to report last week that Manuel had interviewed last Wednesday and was considered the front-runner for the job.
Among his highlights while at UConn, Manuel raised money to fund a $35 million training facility for men’s and women’s basketball. He nursed back to academic health a men’s basketball program that was ineligible in 2013 because of poor Academic Progress Rate scores.
Michigan president Mark Schlissel ultimately made the decision, but the process used a search firm and a search committee. A wide net was cast for candidates. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, a longtime athletics administrator at Michigan, was thought to be a top candidate. Long was pursued but chose not to be involved in the process, according to a source.
Hackett will not vanish from Michigan athletics. He said last month at the annual football banquet that he plans “on keeping my nose in things around here a long time.” He has said he will help the next athletic director transition at Michigan.
Schlissel said during a conference call in early December when Hackett announced he would not stay on as permanent athletic director that having a Michigan pedigree would be a plus.
“I think having some connection with the university does have advantages but I wouldn’t limit us to only looking at people who have had Michigan stories and connections,” Schlissel said. “We want to find the most talented appropriate leader for this very important function within the university, a function whose importance goes beyond the borders of the university. Although folks with Michigan ties have, I think, a bit of an advantage, it certainly is not an exclusion category.
“Personally, I think this has to be the best athletic director position in the country and I’m certain we’re going to get outstanding candidates.”
Manuel’s name surfaced as a candidate to become Michigan’s athletic director in late 2014 after Brandon resigned. Manuel, a native of New Orleans, was asked about that by his hometown paper, the Times-Picayune, in Feb., 2015 when he was there on business.
“I love my alma mater,'' Manuel said. “We'll see what happens. But I love UConn, too. It's been a great home for me. My father taught me never to look past where you are. I look at the things I'm doing and I'm happy doing them. We'll see what happens in the future.''
Manual was assistant and associate athletic director at Michigan, overseeing the football and men’s basketball programs. He was named assistant athletic director in 1998 and associate athletic director in 2000.
He arrived at Michigan to play football for Schembechler but after the neck injury ended his career, he lettered twice for the Michigan track and field team. After he graduated from Michigan, Manuel was coordinator of Michigan’s Wade H. McCree Jr. Incentive Scholars Program (June, 1990-Aug., 1993). It was a partnership with the Detroit Public Schools to help students prepare for education at Michigan public universities.
Manuel has multiple degrees from Michigan. He earned a master’s in social work in 1993 and an MBA from Ross School of Business in 2005.
Michigan’s athletic department has an operating budget of $151 million, there are 31 total varsity sports and more than 900 student-athletes. Schlissel has hired Turnkey Search and appointed a search committee that included softball coach Carol Hutchins and Dr. Stefan Humphries, a former Michigan football player now a medical director of a facility in Nevada.
These are interesting times for athletic directors, particularly at larger Division I schools, because they essentially are operating small corporations. Michigan has had a run of athletic directors, like Hackett, Brandon and Bill Martin, from the business world. Martin told The News last month that Michigan had to move in a different direction.
Manuel’s strong athletics administrative background gives him all the tools to handle a big-budget operation.
“Going forward, we should this time be looking for a sitting athletic director with a lot of experience at the senior levels,” Martin told The Detroit News. “At this stage where Michigan is, I would favor going with someone with extensive athletic experience.”
Schlissel said he wanted an athletic director who could blend the business aspects and the needs of the student-athlete.
“The athletic program is a $150 million enterprise,” Schlissel said. “It’s a complex enterprise. It requires somebody with business, accounting and leadership skills and experience, but it’s also a student-athlete and coach and athletic-competition enterprise operating in an NCAA and Big Ten milieu.”
There is considerable evidence Manuel was popular at Connecticut. UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was asked last weekend about Manuel’s potential departure to Michigan.
“My professional relationship with Warde is as good, if not better, than any AD (I’ve worked for),” Auriemma told reporters. “And my personal relationship with him is better than any relationship I've ever had with any AD (at UConn).
"He's done a phenomenal job with the coaches, in terms of where we were and where we are right now. He might still be our AD 10 years from now, I don't know. Maybe not. But when you are that good at what you do, people notice, whether it's Michigan or elsewhere. His name always going to be in the news. And we (UConn) should hope it is. If we have an AD or a coach that nobody wants, then maybe we should be thinking that they aren't that good.
"Everyone has to do what's in their best interest for their family, themselves, their future and career. People that are happy Warde is our AD should be happy if he stays and happy if goes. I enjoy his company and what he's meant to our program.”
Manuel enjoyed great success at Buffalo, where he led a 20-team program. When he arrived there, four teams were under the APR and a year later, all had moved above the cut line.
In June 2007, he received the Opportunity Award from tennis pioneer Billie Jean King — Buffalo was recognized by the Women’s Sports Foundation as one of four “standout” colleges and universities in the nation for outstanding achievement in providing equitable athletic opportunities for its female student-athletes.