Manuel's a man in demand

Hartford

The truth, as our ongoing education teaches us, is usually in the middle. And the truth about UConn athletic director Warde Manuel's dalliance - or lack thereof - with the same job at Virginia Tech depends on whom you want to believe.

Greg Roberts, a talk show host in Roanoke, Va., said on his program Tuesday that Manuel was one of six candidates to replace outgoing AD Jim Weaver.

"The writing is on the wall," Roberts said, alluding to the perception of UConn's unenviable perch in the American Athletic Conference. "(Manuel) is trying to get in while the getting is good."

All of which leads to the question: What does Roberts know and how does he know it? Attempts to reach him Wednesday were unsuccessful. But spies familiar with Virginia Tech athletics said he has very strong ties to football coach Frank Beamer. Might we assume Beamer is Roberts' source? Might we assume Beamer, among the most influential people on campus, has some inside knowledge?

Moreover, Manuel spent last week at the NCAA Convention in San Diego. Do we know for sure he didn't have a conversation or two about other jobs?

Manuel dismissed the news quite clearly after the UConn women's game Wednesday night at the XL Center. Earlier, he issued the following statement through the UConn athletic communications department:

"I am not a candidate, have not been interviewed nor have I been contacted by Virginia Tech about its Director of Athletics position despite some recent media reports," he said. "I am very happy as the Director of Athletics at UConn and look forward to continuing to work with President (Susan) Herbst, my coaches, staff, student-athletes, donors and fans to enjoy a high level of continued success in athletics at UConn. I wish Virginia Tech all the best in their search to replace, one of the legends in our business, Jim Weaver."

Believe whomever you'd like. Free country. Just get used to it. Because every time a job arises in one of the Power Five conferences, Manuel's name will be mentioned.

Here's why:

Herbst raised eyebrows here when she once called him a "rock star," relative to the profession.

She's right.

Manuel's accomplishments here in a relatively short time are more impressive than most of the fandom, obsessed with the morass of the AAC, believes or understands. They want to blame him for UConn's place in Elba, rather than understanding there were warts here long before he arrived.

As one UConn guy said Wednesday, "the perception and the reality here are a lot different."

And so the scorecard reads:

Manuel's choice of a men's basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, appears to be a direct hit.

His choice of a new hockey coach, Mike Cavanaugh, is an upper deck homer.

His choice of a football coach, Bob Diaco, a young guy with a Notre Dame pedigree and more energy than Con Edison, appears intriguing.

His demand that UConn's athletic programs honor their academic component has produced Academic Progress Rates well above the NCAA's baseline score. This includes men's basketball, whose previous academic foibles ultimately hijacked an entire season.

The new basketball practice facility began on his watch, although it should be noted that former interim athletic director Paul Pendergast deserves some applause for that, too.

Manuel's people have noticed.

"First, it's Warde's background. At a place like Michigan means that he worked at a university where things are generally perceived to be done the way they're supposed to be done. It's a fantastic state university, the highest levels of academics, the highest level of athletics," UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma said.

"So now you go to Buffalo which was a horrible situation when he got there and now all of a sudden it's a great situation. Now he's here and he's guiding us through the change in conference, hiring a basketball coach, football coach, building a new practice facility and raising money. People notice. When you do things like that and have that kind of history, people notice. He's made a lot of great friends in the business and that goes a long way."

Hence, the he said/he said about Virginia Tech is irrelevant. The larger point: Warde Manuel is the whole package: young (45), smart, measured. If he ever delivers UConn into a Power Five conference, he'll write his ticket to any campus in the country. Remember, too, that he came here thanks to Parker Executive Search, a firm used frequently in intercollegiate athletics. Every time a school in need of an athletic director employs Parker, there's a good chance Manuel's name will arise.

Therein is a Catch 22: It's nice to hear your name floated, but when search firms do so, they create sometimes unnecessary angst on the existing campus.

UConn is lucky to have Warde Manuel. Just don't be surprised if you hear his name again. And again.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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