Warde Manuel's tenure as AD officially began just over a week ago. Michigan basketball has finished its run in the big dance, Michigan hockey has won a conference championship, and Michigan softball extended its record to 21-2. Manuel, meanwhile, went to work, attending meetings, kicking off a 'listening tour' to get the lay of the land, and for the most part avoided headlines along the way. That's just the way Manuel preferred it.
When Michigan announced that Warde Manuel would be the next AD, in a press conference at the end of January in the old Michigan Union, superlatives and compliments abounded. School president Mark Schlissel described the athletic department as being in "wonderful shape" thanks to the work of interim athletic director Jim Hackett. Jim Harbaugh presented Manuel, a former U-M football player and track and field star, with his own commemorative jersey.
But those looking for a ceremony flush with star power and charisma would be disappointed. Jim Hackett appeared to deflect the heavy praise thrown his way as much as possible. Warde himself shined best when focusing on the people in his life, and not on the speech in front of him. This was not a 'Dave Brandon' press conference, or a 'Rich Rodriguez' press conference. ("I think the transition will be relatively smooth" was a reassuring line by Rodriguez back in 2007.) None of the men who spoke at Warde Manuel's introduction were doing so for a camera, even though they were there. It was, you could probably call it, a ceremony full of nerds instead of politicians, of people who excel at their job behind the scenes, of people who were a family together and not a family apart. It was pure Michigan.
Without a doubt, Manuel is a perfect person to be Michigan's AD. He graduated from Michigan not once, but three times, including an MBA from the Ross School of Business in 2005. He worked his way up in Michigan's athletic department under three ADs, rising to associate athletic director before leaving for Buffalo and then UConn. At both of those positions, he showed a knack for hiring great coaches and maintaining a profit. Now, on the eve of Michigan's 150th year of intercollegiate athletics, he is the twelfth person to take the helm in Ann Arbor.
"I left 11 1/2 years ago," Manuel said, "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 and be able to work at Michigan again was a big thing for me. I enjoyed it."
Another skill that stands out on Manuel's resume is his ability to maintain high academic standards. As soon as he got his undergrad degree, he started working in academic advising. At UConn, he fixed a crumbling academic support system that quickly became one of the nation's best. This quality surely endeared him to Michigan's president Mark Schlissel, a Princeton alum and former professor. Similarly, Warde Manuel's football background gives him insight into the ever-changing world of college football, the one sport that towers over everything else in Ann Arbor.
And Warde has no plans to change what Jim Harbaugh's doing. "I love Jim's perspective and his passion," Warde said about Michigan's second-year football coach, "and his energy that he brings to his team and college football. For me, there's nothing that Jim has done that causes me any concern.
"He's probably one of the most creative coaches I've seen, in terms of thinking about things and bringing new ideas to fruition. ... He's bringing new thoughts to the table and there's nothing wrong with that."
Finally, harmony seems to have returned to Ann Arbor, and Manuel has been groomed to keep it that way.
"Warde has had experience across the board in collegiate athletics," said his former boss, Bill Martin, all the way back in 2005. "Whether it's sports management, fundraising, administration or facilities, he's done it all. Having been an athlete, having been involved on the academic side, he understands that every student-athlete is a student first."
Every Michigan AD dating back to 1921 has had a previous tie to the university - either as a coach, an athlete, a fundraiser or a staffer. A Michigan Man, they call them - taught how to be successful and ultimately give back. Warde is the next in line to keep it going.