Last week, UConn’s athletic director, Warde Manuel, announced his departure for the same position at the University of Michigan. Manuel came to UConn in 2012 from the University of Buffalo and has steered the Huskies to numerous national championships throughout his tenure, according to the Daily Campus.
The Hartford Courant quoted Susan Herbst as saying she and the university “understand how much the position at Michigan means to him,” alluding to Manuel’s studies at the University of Michigan, and more importantly, his football career with the Wolverines, where he played alongside current head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Although there might be a sense of being jilted, none can fault Manuel for taking his dream position as the head of Michigan athletics. As the Daily Campus reported, Manuel maintained a level of excellence while at UConn, while also making the right hiring decisions in order to build the men’s football and hockey programs. While the American Athletic Conference is not ideal, Manuel succeeded in keeping UConn competitive at the highest level.
While the UConn community will miss Warde Manuel, the university now must prioritize the search for a new athletic director. The search committee must understand the lesson of Manuel’s departure in seeking a new head for the athletics department. Manuel’s deep ties with the University of Michigan made that position irresistible.
Although there is no clear choice for a new AD, looking within the expansive community of UConn graduates and former student athletes would be wise. Hiring a new AD who, like current men’s basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, has deep bonds to the university would provide the passion needed to be an impactful AD.
As Manuel said in his acceptance of the Michigan job, UConn “deserves to be in a Power Five conference, and I hope to see that soon.” The next AD must use the full weight of their position to gain UConn entrance into a Power Five conference.
Although the American has provided a comfortable home for the past several years, a Power Five conference would be the logical fit for the UConn Huskies. As the Daily Campus roundtable on the subject highlighted, the consensus pick is the long-shot Atlantic Coast Conference, with the Big 12 appearing to be the most viable option.
When searching for the next AD, the university and Susan Herbst need to consider the prospect’s ability to not only steer the Huskies to more national championship berths, but also find an ear with a Power Five conference.
For UConn to build on current success, the level of competitiveness must increase. The university needs an AD with an insatiable appetite for growth and success, as well as an AD who sees this as more than a launching point to another, future position.