Warde Manuel can use his life story as an example for the college athletes at the University of Connecticut to follow when it comes to being prepared for life after the playing days end.
Manuel, director of athletics at UConn, was an All-America high school defensive lineman in New Orleans and played for legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler. A neck injury in his junior year curtailed any plans of playing professional football, but with guidance from his parents and Schembechler, Manuel refocused his career goals and eventually started working as a college sports administrator.
“The two major influences in my life were my father and Bo,” Manuel says. “(Schembechler) was a tremendous influence on me and many others in terms of the way he led. The characteristics he possessed and instilled in us were about having integrity, strength and working as a team.”
After graduating with a degree in general studies with a focus in psychology in 1990, Manuel worked part time in the athletics department while studying social work and psychology in a doctoral degree program at Michigan. But the more time he spent in the athletics department, the more clear his passion became.
Life after football
After his undergraduate graduation, Manuel was coordinator of Michigan’s Wade H. McCree Jr. Incentive Scholars Program from 1990 to 1993. He also earned a master’s degree in social work from Michigan. In 1994, he became an academic advisor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and eventually the assistant athletics director for academics at the school.
Back to the alma mater
Manuel returned to Michigan after a year at Georgia Tech and again worked part time in athletics while pursuing a doctorate. In February 1998, he was named an assistant athletics director at Michigan with responsibilities for overseeing operational facets of the athletics program. He was named an associate athletics director in September 2000 and began overseeing the football and men’s basketball programs.
“It was around that time that I realized that I wanted to ultimately become an athletics director,” Manuel says.
On to Buffalo
In August 2005, Manuel was hired as the director of athletics at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. His first day on the job was the day Hurricane Katrina battered his New Orleans hometown, where his parents and sister lost their homes. “I can remember to this day the exhaustion and stress of their voices about what they had seen and the unknown about what the future would hold,” Manuel says. His parents eventually settled in Opelousas, Louisiana.
While Manuel was at Buffalo, the Bulls won the Mid-American Conference football title in 2008 under then-head coach Turner Gill.
“Upon my arrival, people were saying Buffalo wasn’t going to win in football and you can’t recruit to Buffalo because of where it is,” Manuel says. “It was an extremely happy evening when we won the MAC championship. You have to have a belief and a humble confidence in what you feel you can accomplish.”
Becoming a Husky
Manuel became the director of athletics at the University of Connecticut in March 2012. The 2013-14 academic year proved to be special for the Huskies as teams captured NCAA championships in field hockey, women’s basketball and men’s basketball while achieving perfect 1,000 Academic Progress Rate scores. In May 2015, in recognition of Manuel’s leadership of the Huskies’ academic and athletics success, he was named a winner of the Under Armour AD of the Year Award by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
“My story helps because I always ask our student-athletes: What is their plan when sports ends?” Manuel says. “A lot of them think they are going to play professionally or go to the Olympics. I know the data, but I don’t want to kill their dreams. Whether it ends after your junior year, like it did for me, or after their senior year, the time that you play sports is going to end. What are you
going to do?”