Manuel envisions broad success at UM, basketball included

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Warde Manuel

Dayton, Ohio — New Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel has had a busy first three days on the job, sitting down with as many colleagues and coaches as he can. He called it the “Listening Tour.”

The John Beilein sitdown, though, has been delayed, for obvious reasons.

“You know, we were scheduled to meet yesterday,” Manuel said Wednesday night at University of Dayton Arena, where Michigan and Tulsa were getting set to meet in the NCAA Tournament. “And he had to stand me up to come here.

“That’s not a good start for him!”

As if it needs explanation, Manuel was kidding.

Coming from the University of Connecticut, where the basketball teams — men’s and women’s — are huge, Manuel has big hopes for that sport and football to become a so-called two-headed monster.

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Michigan made the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in nine seasons under Beilein, and while this one was a sweat — the Wolverines got an 11 seed and a play-in game — Manuel said any way you get in, it’s quite a feat.

“It was important for those kids and the coaches and the staff who really worked hard all year. What solidified it was the run we had in the Big Ten tournament, and I gave a lot of credit to Coach for that,” Manuel said. “We’ve overcome a lot.

“I’m proud of the team and what Coach Beilein and the staff have done.”

Manuel, who officially started Monday, taking over for interim AD Jim Hackett, doesn’t know Beilein well.

The two met briefly in the Bahamas in November, when Michigan and Connecticut were playing. They chatted for 10 minutes, not having a clue then that Manuel would be the guy tapped to replace Hackett, who replaced Dave Brandon.

Manuel also spent Sunday, the day before he started, with the basketball team, as it celebrated its NCAA Tournament invitation.

Connecticut won the basketball championship in 2014, under Kevin Ollie, whom Manuel picked to replace Jim Calhoun.

Unlike at UConn, football always will be king at Michigan. But, again, Manuel wants basketball at that level, too, at least in terms of success — like, say, that school in East Lansing.

“I want it, I desire it, and I know our coaches and student-athletes want that, as well,” Manuel said. “It would bring great joy to have multiple, multiple programs compete at the highest level for championships.”

Manuel, 47, isn’t quite fully settled in Ann Arbor yet. He’s waiting for his daughter to finish up her final year at Connecticut, before shifting to Michigan’s medical school. And his son graduates high school in June, and is choosing between Michigan and Connecticut for next year.

Here are highlights of his conversation with reporters Wednesday night:

■On the future of longtime hockey coach Red Berenson, 76, who is considering retirement: “I did meet with Red and we caught up, had a great conversation and we’ll see where it goes. But Red is in a good place. I love what Coach Berenson has brought to the university and Michigan all his life, and at the end of the season, Red and I will sit down and have more of a conversation about the future. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d love for Red Berenson to be our coach next season.”

■On his first day Monday: “It was a little surreal. You know, I left 11-1/2 years ago never knowing if I’d be back, loving the place always, but never knowing if I’d come back in any capacity. So to come back to be able to work at Michigan again was a big thing for me and special. I enjoyed it, enjoyed the feeling, seeing old friends, meeting new friends, new colleagues, was really special.”

■On his timetable for making decisions: “Well, there’s decisions I’ve already made. ... It’ll probably take a couple months between all the different things that I have to do and timing, when coaches are away, when staff is away, to really get a good sense and meet with everybody. I don’t have a set timetable on decisions or changes. I’ll do it as they come and they’re needed. But right now, I want to understand how things are set up, how people are organized, why we’re doing things that we’re doing without trying to pass judgment on it. Just trying to understand. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the department.”

■On how much time he’ll spend with donors, students and fans: “I can’t hide when I go out. I’ve learned that. I’ve tried that. (Laughing) I’ve made some calls to some of our donors, and I look forward to meeting as many of our fans, donors, students, staff. I’m fairly accessible, guys, because I can’t hide. I’ve learned not to try. I met some fans tonight and took some selfies. Why with me, I don’t know! I enjoy the interaction.”