The University of Michigan is looking for a new athletic director.
That's because their old one, Dave Brandon, resigned recently.
"Resigned" in sports is usually a nice way of saying someone was shown the door but given the chance to save a little face on the way out. That certainly appears to be the case with Brandon, whose recent history included being verbally slapped around by the school's Board of Regents for allowing many of Michigan football's traditions to be lost, another bad season on the gridiron for the program, and a controversy surrounding quarterback Shane Morris, who was allowed to continue playing in a game against Minnesota on Sept. 27 despite having suffered a concussion.
You can't have the fans, the media, and the Board of Regents all against you and expect to keep your job. Clearly, Brandon didn't suffer from any such illusions.
So now one of the biggest, most storied athletic programs in the nation is looking for someone new to lead them, and UConn AD Warde Manuel's name keeps coming up. Now to be sure, whenever something like this happens, rumors spread and facts are short to come by. The most recent reports suggest that Michigan is targeting the AD at Northwestern, Jim Phillips. Maybe he is the top man for the job or maybe he's just a name on a list compiled by a bunch of reporters with no insight into the program and a need to produce a story by a certain deadline.
I'll believe a rumor when I see someone standing at a podium being introduced during a press conference.
However, Manuel being connected to Michigan makes sense. He played at the school from 1986 to 1989 under legendary coach Bo Schembechler. In 1998, he was named the assistant athletic director at U of M, and moved up to associate athletic director in 2000.
For a school like Michigan, which prides itself on tradition and legacy, he's surely regarded as one of the family- a Michigan man.
That's why, if offered, I have no doubt Manuel will pack up and leave Storrs ... and I won't blame him one bit.
If this were a mid-level Big 10 or SEC team sniffing around for Manuel and he were entertaining the idea of leaving, then that would leave a bad taste in my mouth. After all, when Coach Randy Edsall left in the dead of night to take the Maryland job, it wasn't just the callous way in which he did it. It was also the fact that he'd jumped ship for .... Maryland. I mean, really? Maryland?
But Michigan for Manuel is different. He most likely considers that home, and how could anyone blame someone for wanting to go home?
And if he does exit stage left, here's the legacy Warde Manuel will leave behind after a very short run at UConn: he will have left the place better than when he found it.
Now, I might not have been so willing to say that a few years ago. I, more than most, was critical of Manuel. I'm still convinced he was outmaneuvered by Louisville for a spot in the ACC, and his reluctance early on to give Kevin Ollie an extension on his contract seemed to be more about proving his power than making a sensible decision. Now that Ollie is signed to a long-term deal, there are now concerns that Warde's exit will activate an early-exit clause in Ollie's contract- making it slightly more attractive for him to defect to the NBA.
Yet, those criticism are, I readily admit, very debatable. What isn't debatable is the fact that Manuel has been able to pick up most of the pieces left over from the destructive Jeff Hathaway era and put UConn back together again. He hired Ollie and Bob Diaco. He also hired hockey Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh, after signing off on the team's move to Hockey East. It's also important to note that fundraising has increased dramatically since Manuel took over. The basketball practice facility finally got the green light and plans are being worked out for upgrades to other facilities.
So, if Manuel were to leave today, he exits having presided over three important coaching changes, a conference move for hockey, and a significant increase in fundraising efforts. Considering he's only been on the job since 2012, that's pretty good.
Yes, conference affiliation is still a major issue, and the one blemish on his UConn resume. Yes, the future of the football program is still in question, despite some early promising returns. But you can't tell me that UConn isn't now a more attractive destination for a talented and respected athletic director than it was before.
Who knows what is going to happen in the next weeks and months. Who knows how long it will take for Michigan to make up its mind. And who knows if Manuel hasn't found a home in Connecticut and has decided to stay for as long as the University will have him.
But if we assume that an offer from Michigan would be too enticing for Manuel to pass up, the only thing we could do is wish him well and thank him for a job well done. Oh, and wouldn't it be ironic if Manuel, who failed to get UConn into the ACC as its athletic director, could help get UConn into the Big 10 while working for Michigan? Stranger things have happened.