Roundtable: What is Warde Manuel’s biggest achievement at UConn?

University of Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel speaks at a press conference at halftime of the UConn women’s basketball game against Memphis at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Jan. 30, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel speaks at a press conference at halftime of the UConn women’s basketball game against Memphis at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Jan. 30, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

Last week, it was announced that athletic director Warde Manuel would be leaving UConn to take the same position at Michigan. Manuel has done well during his time at UConn. But what has been his biggest accomplishment during his time as athletic director at UConn? The Daily Campus sports staff picks their best moments.

Aaron Esposito, Staff Writer

A lot of people point to Kevin Ollie as Manuel’s greatest coaching hire, but I give him more credit for hiring Bob Diaco after the Paul Pasqualoni era came to an end. Kevin Ollie was basically hand-picked by Jim Calhoun, but Diaco was one of a handful of accomplished coaches interested in the UConn football head coaching position. Manuel hired Diaco at a time when UConn football was a laughing stock. The Huskies were coming off a miserable three-win season and conference realignment left the program at a crossroads. 

Bob Diaco didn’t burst onto the scene and turn UConn into conference title contenders right away, but he carries himself with a youthful enthusiasm and indomitable optimism that the program desperately needed. Diaco is the type of guy that gets recruits and fans excited about the game of football. He takes pride in his program and it has started to show on the field. Manuel should be commended for trusting Diaco and giving him time to breathe life into a defeated program.

Chris Hanna, Campus Correspondent

Warde Manuel had a very short, yet fairly successful tenure as UConn’s athletic director. Many would argue his biggest successes were his hirings of several coaches in major sports here at UConn, such as Kevin Ollie in basketball, Mike Cavanaugh in men’s hockey, and Bob Diaco in football. 

These are all great accomplishments for the school. However, I would say his biggest accomplishment in his time at UConn has to be bringing the school out of probation, partly due to his hiring decisions, and bringing up athletes’ graduation rates, leading to a better overall reputation for the school. Not only did he get UConn athletics a better academic reputation, but Manuel, in collaboration with his coaches, also managed to keep 5-star athletes interested in the school despite the fact that we were no longer in a Power 5 conference.

This is likely the biggest achievement of all as it keeps the school relevant in the national picture. He tried his best to get UConn out of the American Athletic Conference and still might be able to with his new influence in the B1G as Michigan’s AD. If he does get us out of this horrid conference we call the American, that might be the accomplishment that we’ll have to thank Manuel for the most. 

Matt Barresi, Campus Correspondent

One move that doesn’t get enough love on this campus, because we are a basketball school, was UConn’s acceptance into Hockey East. Hockey East is the premiere collegiate hockey conference in America, like the SEC and football or ACC and basketball. It was a big, big step forward to go from the AHC to Hockey East. The rewards are already showing.

UConn led the league in attendance last season and are third this season. The fan support in Hartford has been tremendous. The athletic department has given the program everything they need to be successful, including the hiring of Mike Cavanaugh from BC.

The results are slowly but surely on the way as evidenced by their victory over BC last season, and victory over BU along with a tie of BC this season. The talent level is increasing every year and UConn has all the makings of becoming a hockey power in New England in the coming years. That’s a big step considering a few years ago they were a bottom dweller in a league with teams like Holy Cross, Bentley and American International.

Matt Zampini, Sports Editor

I don’t think there is any question about what Warde Manuel’s biggest accomplishment was at UConn. It has to be the hiring of Bob Diaco as the football coach.

Before Manuel hired Diaco, the UConn football team had three wins and were one of the worst teams in the country; a laughing stock at certain points in the season. Although the next season UConn had just two wins in Diaco’s first season as head coach, Diaco and the Huskies obviously reached a bowl game this past season and the UConn football program’s future looks brighter than it has in the past few seasons.

In a time where UConn is trying to get into a Power 5 conference, UConn’s football team plays a big role in that. The Power 5 conference wouldn’t even have considered UConn three years ago, but now that isn’t the case and I think a lot of that has to do with where Diaco has brought this team in a short period of time.

Josh Buser, Campus Correspondent

Warde Manuel’s successful contributions to UConn’s football and men’s hockey programs cannot be overlooked, but given the university’s reputation as a basketball school, I think his hiring of Kevin Ollie is unquestionably his most important achievement.

Shortly after Manuel arrived at UConn, Jim Calhoun announced his retirement. Finding a successor to a coach of Calhoun’s stature is a difficult task, and although Calhoun advocated for Ollie, the decision was ultimately up to Manuel and UConn President Susan Herbst.

Hiring Ollie was huge in itself for Manuel, helping to ease UConn from the Calhoun era with one of Calhoun’s own assistant coaches, but the initial seven month contract was also important, as it allowed Manuel an observation period to evaluate the unproven head coach before making a long-term commitment.

Obviously Manuel liked what he saw, and he gave Ollie a long term extension just three months into his head coaching career. After Ollie won a National Championship in his first year eligible for the tournament, it was clear that Manuel made the right decision and that UConn basketball would avoid any setbacks after Calhoun’s retirement.

Connor Donahue, Campus Correspondent

In Manuel’s four years as the Athletic Director, the Huskies have won six national championships. The near-seamless transition from Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to current coach Kevin Ollie was made possible because of Manuel. And yes, Bob Diaco is 8-17 in two years at head coach, but the future is bright at Rentschler Field.

But Warde Manuel should also be remembered for his work with the hockey program. It was announced in 2012 that the Huskies would join Hockey East, beginning in the 2014-15 season. As a native Bostonian, and former die-hard BC Eagles fan (sorry), I grew up watching the Hockey East playoffs every year. The level of competition is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Most certainly an improvement over the Atlantic Hockey Association. 

To lead the Huskies into the new era, Manuel hired Mike Cavanaugh as the head coach. Cavanaugh was an assistant coach at Boston College for 18 years, winning nine Hockey East titles and four national championships. Cavanaugh currently sits at 36-48-14 halfway through his third year at the helm.

While it doesn’t look great, the program has been awarded 18 more scholarships a year since entering the Hockey East, and the program is heading in the right direction. The top two goal scorers on the team are freshmen, Letunov and Thompson, and that my friends, is a great sign for what the future holds.