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Friday morning, another member of one of Jim Harbaugh’s old “ball teams,” as he calls them, returned to Ann Arbor. Warde Manuel, who played football at Michigan from 1986 to 1989 took the podium as the school’s new athletic director.

Asked about his connection to the football program, Manuel spoke fondly about his playing career, during which he was on a team with Harbaugh for one season.

That was all Harbaugh needed to hear. In the middle of Manuel’s introductory press conference at the Michigan Union, Harbaugh rose from his seat in the third row, called out, “I just want to give you a hug!” and did just that.

He then presented Manuel with a personalized No. 79 football jersey from the team, adding an exclamation point to Manuel’s return to his alma mater.

“We have a bond that is hard to explain,” Manuel said. “He was my captain my first year. He went through the same thing I went through.”

Harbaugh returned to Michigan just over a year ago, citing the memories he experienced as a quarterback in the 1980s. His new boss will share those memories.

“We come from the same experiences, learned experience, of being part of a team — being a part of a ball team,” Harbaugh said. “We view the Athletic Department, the University, our individual teams, we’re all a part of that team. We’re working together, and he will be our leader. Can’t wait to work with him.”

Manuel’s acknowledgements at the beginning of his remarks lasted more than 10 minutes, including several people connected with the Michigan football program from his past. He said the two most influential men in his life were his father and legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

He also acknowledged Lloyd Carr, who was a defensive coordinator during Manuel’s career and later a national championship-winning head coach. Carr said he was one of many people the Turnkey Search firm consulted in finding Manuel, and he spoke highly of his former player after the press conference.

“He was always a guy you could count on to know his assignments, to do his job, and he was always a positive guy with his teammates,” Carr said. “He was a leader because as he grew older, he took those leadership things that Jim and some of the other guys had passed down to him.

“You didn’t have to ever worry about Warde Manuel going to class, the other side of the football experience, the academics. I think he’ll be a great role model for all of these student-athletes coming into Michigan.”

Among others, Manuel also thanked several former teammates and former coaches — all of whom, he said, helped him get back to Ann Arbor as athletic director.

Since he left, he has stopped by the football facility to see the coaching staff. He also has talked with Harbaugh in different meetings to catch up, and he met with him last fall as the athletic director at Connecticut when the Huskies were in town for the NCAA Field Hockey Championships.

Now, he’ll get to have all of those reunions on a professional basis.

“I know (Harbaugh’s) love and his passion for success for Michigan football, and he should know mine without even saying a word to each other,” Manuel said. “We know that is embedded in who we are.”


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