ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - As new athletic director Warde Manuel discussed his relationship with former teammate Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan football coach stood up and offered his incoming boss a hug and jersey.
“I used to be able to fit into this,” said Manuel, who played defensive end for the Wolverines.
Michigan introduced Manuel as its AD on Friday, bringing back a well-regarded alumnus who played football under coach Bo Schembechler. Manuel is leaving his role as the AD at Connecticut to take a five-year deal at Michigan that starts March 14.
“He’s very experienced at what he does,” Harbaugh said. “He knows his job - there’s no question about it. Glad to have him as our leader.”
The 47-year-old Manuel had been UConn’s AD since 2012. He steps into an athletic department at Michigan that looks a lot more stable than it did in 2014, when the football team struggled under Brady Hoke and AD Dave Brandon resigned.
Jim Hackett has been Michigan’s interim athletic director since Brandon’s departure. Hackett fired Hoke, landed Harbaugh and helped the school align with Nike in a lucrative deal that starts this year.
After participating in football and track, Manuel worked as an athletic administrator at Michigan. He spoke highly of his relationship with Harbaugh.
“We have a bond that is hard to explain. He was my captain my first year,” Manuel said. “I know his love and his passion for success for Michigan football.”
Hackett’s list of accomplishments is impressive for an AD whose tenure was never permanent. Now Manuel takes over as Michigan heads into what could be a period of significant prosperity. Not only has Harbaugh turned the Wolverines around on the football field, but the basketball program has been in good hands for several years under coach John Beilein.
“I look forward to really just understanding the department,” Manuel said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and in as short of a time as I can do it, I will.”
The challenge for Manuel will be putting his stamp on the athletic department.
“I think it’s an interesting balancing act between advancing your own initiatives, your own projects, and continuing to advance in the direction that the institution is moving in already,” said Mark Bernstein, one of the university’s regents. “I think he steps into this role at a good moment, but there are challenges out there. I think intercollegiate athletics is in a very complex place right now, and I think Warde is uniquely qualified to help think about those issues, lead on those issues - and this university wants to do that also.”
Manuel went to UConn after being the AD at the University at Buffalo, which he helped establish as a Division I program. He took over UConn’s athletic department in February 2012, when the school was dealing with academic sanctions that kept the Huskies out of the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In his tenure, the school won six NCAA national championships.
“When he came in, there were a lot of unanswered questions that were floating around the university,” UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said. “We were getting a new president and that was going to be a big change, obviously. The whole conference thing was a huge issue when he was coming in.
“I mean, it’s a different job now than when he got here, and he had a lot to do with that. No one does anything alone, but I want to say that he set a tone that was the right tone for us, exactly what we needed.”
Manuel navigated UConn through the retirement of Hall of Fame basketball coach Jim Calhoun, agreeing to hire Kevin Ollie, Calhoun’s hand-picked successor. But he gave Ollie just a seven-month contract, signing him to a five-year deal only after Ollie proved he could lead the Huskies to academic and athletic success.
The team has since posted back-to-back perfect academic progress reports to the NCAA.
Michigan has not hired experienced athletic directors in the past, but made the most of an opportunity to change that when it picked Manuel to run a department with a $151 million budget, 900 athletes and a staff of 350.
Manuel’s annual base salary will be $800,000.
AP Sports Writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Conn., and Larry Lage contributed to this report.
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