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The main attraction among Michigan coaches during future Athletic Director Warde Manuel’s introductory press conference was, of course, Jim Harbaugh.
Manuel lauded Harbaugh’s success with the football program and discussed their relationship as former teammates at Michigan, and Harbaugh briefly interrupted the press conference to present Manuel with a Michigan football jersey and a hug.
Harbaugh, however, was far from the only Michigan coach to play a role in the University’s search for its next Athletic Director — he did not serve on the seven-person search committee. That role went to Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, the lone coach on the committee.
Hutchins, who has held her current position since 1985, has worked with eight different athletic directors throughout her coaching career. Her role as the voice of the coaches throughout the search process wasn’t one she took lightly.
Hutchins received regular feedback from the coaches of Michigan’s 26 other teams. From her perspective, all of the coaches were on the same page in what they wanted out of their new leader.
“I’m mostly excited Warde’s interested in listening to the coaches,” Hutchins said. “The coaches have a lot to say, and they have a lot of passion for this department and this University. We all want it to be great, we all want to win championships and we all want to have our students to be great students and have a great student-athlete experience.”
Hutchins was effusive in her praise of University President Mark Schlissel’s role during the search process, crediting its success almost completely to him. Schlissel, Hutchins said, did a great deal of the legwork throughout the process while he received input from the search committee.
One thing Hutchins told Schlissel during the search process was that she believed it was important to hire an athletic director who understands the devotion required of student-athletes. Manuel, from his days as a Michigan football player, fulfills that requirement.
“I said we need somebody that understands not just Michigan, but what it means to be a student-athlete,” Hutchins said, “and the challenges that go with that and understands that the experience that (star softball player) Sierra Romero has is as important as the one that (former starting quarterback) Jake Rudock has.”
Though he didn’t spend much time during the press conference discussing Michigan’s non-revenue sports, Manuel indicated they weren’t far off his radar. He joked of flooding Hutchins’ softball field when he watered it during his days at Michigan, and he said that he visited with Michigan field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz when he attended the NCAA Championships in field hockey, which were held in Ann Arbor, in November.
Michigan’s women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico, who was familiar with the Connecticut athletic department as a Big East rival during her time at St. John’s, said she has received numerous positive phone calls regarding Manuel.
Barnes Arico’s role during the search process was similar to that of many of Michigan’s other coaches. She met with Turnkey Search, the firm facilitating the process, and attended meetings Hutchins held regarding the search.
“Our trust was in Coach Hutch, and she did a heck of a job,” Barnes Arico said of her fellow coaches as Hutchins approached her from behind and threw an arm around her colleague.
Personally, Barnes Arico is excited to work with someone who comes from a powerhouse women’s basketball program as she works to build Michigan’s program to that level.
“I think he has a great understanding for women’s basketball at the highest, highest level, and he has a tremendous relationship with (UConn coach Geno Auriemma), who’s the best in our business, so that definitely makes a difference for me,” Barnes Arico said.
Auriemma, who has won 10 national championships, told the Hartford Courant earlier this week that his professional relationship with Manuel “is as good, if not better,” than any other athletic director he has worked with. Further, he stated that his personal relationship with Manuel is better than his personal relationship with any other athletic director he has worked with.
Manuel said Friday that forming relationships with Michigan’s coaches will be key to the early transitional part of his tenure.
“The group that really has led all of the transitions, at least in my experience, are the coaches and the student-athletes and what they do,” Manuel said. “And so, I look forward to getting to know all the staff, the coaches, the student-athletes and really understanding the current climate and culture of the department.”