Manuel to serve as Michigan's next athletic director, source confirms

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 4:25pm

Warde Manuel, the current athletic director at Connecticut and a former Michigan football player, will become Michigan’s next athletic director, a source close to the Connecticut athletic department said Wednesday in an interview with the Daily, confirming earlier reports from the Detroit Free Press and ESPN.

Manuel will replace interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, who has held the post since Dave Brandon’s resignation in October 2014.

Connecticut has yet to publicly confirm Manuel’s departure. According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not yet authorized to speak publicly on the matter, Manuel met with the university’s board of trustees Wednesday morning. Susan Herbst, the university’s president, acknowledged Manuel’s exit to donors and others close to the program following the meeting.

In a November interview with the Daily at the Battle 4 Atlantis basketball tournament in the Bahamas, Manuel spoke effusively of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and Hackett, but declined to answer questions about his long-term interest in making the jump to Ann Arbor.

Manuel was Harbaugh’s teammate in 1986, when the Schembechler-led Wolverines won the Big Ten, and he has made no secret of his love for his alma mater.

“I can tell you, wherever we were, when Michigan was playing football, we stopped whatever we were doing, and we were watching,” the source said. “During some of (Connecticut’s) football games, when he was focused on our game, he would have the Michigan game recorded at his home. Nobody was allowed to tell him what the final score was.”

Among Manuel’s more notable achievements at Connecticut is the men’s basketball program’s remarkable resurrection following a postseason ban issued by the NCAA in 2012 for a low academic progress rate.

“It didn’t take Warde long to not only fix the APR but bring it to a perfect 1,000,” the source said. “The guy is a no-nonsense guy. He knows what needs to be done, and he gets it done.”

Despite his impressive resume, Manuel still inherits a high bar from Hackett. Since assuming the position, Hackett hired Harbaugh in December 2014, inked a record-setting apparel contract with Nike in July and extended men’s basketball coach John Beilein to a contract through the 2020-21 season in November.

Manuel’s hiring bucks a recent trend of hiring former corporate executives to run athletic departments. Former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin, who held the post from 2001 to 2010, founded First Martin Corp. in 1968 and remains chairman of the Bank of Ann Arbor. Brandon was the CEO at Domino’s Pizza before he replaced Martin.

Manuel, 47, has no corporate experience, but he has built an impressive resume in athletics. He previously served as an assistant athletic director at Michigan under Tom Goss and then Bill Martin. He also served as the athletic director at the University of Buffalo from 2005 to 2012.

University President Mark Schlissel told reporters in a December teleconference that corporate experience, while a potential plus, was far from critical.

“I’m looking for the best person for the job,” Schlissel said. “It is a $151-million enterprise. It's a complex enterprise that requires somebody with business, accounting and leadership skills and experience. … The bottom line is we’re going to hire a spectacular person.”   

Many with ties to Connecticut’s program had long feared that Manuel would return to his alma mater, the source said, but his timeline for doing so was uncertain.

“He is an incredibly capable administrator, but more than that, he understands people,” the source said, lamenting Manuel’s departure. “He’s a freakin’ incredible guy — it sucks to be us.”