After being serenaded with the Husky fight song by the UConn Pep Band in the main team meeting room of The Burton Family Football Complex, Warde J. Manuel took the podium as UConn’s new director-designate of athletics and delivered a straightforward goal for coaches and student-athletes:
“What do I want from them?” Manuel said. “Just greatness, excellence, striving every day to succeed in the classroom, to win in the classroom, win on the field of play, and do the right things. We’re going to do it with integrity. And lastly, we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Manuel, the director of athletics at Buffalo for the past six years, was introduced by President Susan Herbst before an audience of University trustees, coaches, staff, and state media.
“Make no mistake: he will play THE integral – and even transformational – role in the future of UConn athletics,” she said. “Warde brings with him some of the best experience you can possibly find in collegiate athletics – a comprehensive, top-to-bottom understanding of the dynamics of intercollegiate athletics at this very high level; a clear, authoritative vision for what a highly successful D-1 and BCS program should look like of course, the relentless drive to achieve excellence both on and off the court, on and off the field. This guy’s a rock star and UConn’s got him.”
Manuel, who will begin at UConn on March 19, described his new job as “the role of a lifetime,” and said his previous experience as an athletics administrator at Buffalo, Michigan, and Georgia Tech prepared him to lead Husky athletics.
“In the modern history of college athletics there are very few select schools that are synonymous with and personify greatness, excellence, and achievement,” Manuel said. “These schools are giants of the game; the outstanding universities that are filled with pride and devotion. You know as well as I do that the University of Connecticut athletics division is without a doubt one of the legendary institutions that is at that pinnacle.”
In his opening remarks, Manuel directly addressed last week’s announcement that the NCAA has denied UConn’s waiver request on participation in men’s basketball postseason competition for the 2012-2013 season because of low academic progress reports (APR). UConn is appealing the decision.
“Speaking as someone who has been watching UConn closely without being intimately involved, one of the things we need here is some perspective,” he said. “A low APR from two years ago doesn’t define a program, an athletic department, or a university. It’s a hurdle, not a mountain.”
Answering questions from reporters about progress toward improving student-athlete performance in the classroom, he added: “The bottom line with APR is it’s not one singular person. It’s an issue that has a deeper explanation than a number on a piece of paper. This university will get through that. We will get better. [Twenty-three out of 24] teams have an APR that is extremely impressive – 950 or above. Coach [Jim] Calhoun in his career has had not only All-Americans, but Academic All-Americans. This a brief issue in my opinion, one we will work through, one that once we improve, we don’t ever want to go back to that place.”
During Manuel’s tenure at Buffalo, student-athletes in four programs with low APR rates – football, men’s basketball, wrestling, and baseball — improved their classroom performance to meet NCAA standards. At the end of 2009-2010, 10 of Buffalo’s 20 sports had scores of 975 or above.
There are more photos from today’s event on Flickr.