STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut's new athletic director says the academic problems with the men's basketball team do not define UConn.
Warde Manuel, who had served as the University at Buffalo's athletic director since 2005, officially starts his new job March 19.
Manuel, who was introduced at a news conference Monday, said he intends to stay at Connecticut for a long time, and academics will be a top priority. But, he said there needs to be some perspective when discussing the Academic Progress Rate that disqualifies the basketball team from the 2013 NCAA championship tournament.
"UConn is home to 22 different sports played by hundreds of student athletes, consistently wins Big East and conference championships and consistently competes and wins national championships," he said. "A low APR from two years doesn't define a program, an athletic department or a university. It's a hurdle, not a mountain."
University President Susan Herbst said Manuel's role in leading Buffalo back from similar academic issues was a key component in choosing the 43-year-old former Michigan football player to lead UConn athletics.
Buffalo was able to bring into compliance four teams that were failing to meet NCAA academic standard when he arrived in that school.
"He's a rock star," Herbst said. "He's a former student athlete. He's been at terrific top universities: Georgia Tech, Michigan, Buffalo. He's funny. He's interesting. He's got all the characteristics we're looking for."
Manuel had been athletic director at Buffalo since July 2005 where he helped build an identity for a school that transitioned a few years before into Division I and the Mid-American Conference.
Manuel also revamped the school's football schedule, bringing in big paydays by scheduling games against elite programs and getting appearance fees which have paved the way for athletic department improvements and higher salaries for coaches there.
Herbst said UConn was looking for someone who could make changes at UConn. She said UConn's search committee talked extensively to Manuel about how he might eventually replace a Hall of Fame coach such as Jim Calhoun. Calhoun, who turns 70 in May, is currently out on an indefinite medical leave with a back issue.
Manuel, who played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, said he enjoys dealing with powerful personalities and very successful people and would be a fool not to get Calhoun's input on a replacement when that time comes.
"The program that he's built here, he's earned the ability to have some input and some thought in a significant way into, when that day would happen, what he would like to see; who he would like to see," Manuel said. "But ultimately, I believe as an athletic director that it has to be the choice of the institution."
Calhoun issued a statement expressing his approval of the hiring.
"He seems like the perfect fit for us — someone who is going to help lead us into the future," he said. "I am happy and excited to welcome him into the UConn family and I'm very much looking forward to working with him."
Women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said he missed a phone call from Manuel and planned to call him back on Tuesday and meet with him the next time both are in Connecticut.
"I think ADs come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and different philosophies. Some are corporate. They run it like a CEO and some run it a lot more like a small business. I'm anxious to see what his style is," Auriemma said after Connecticut beat Oklahoma 73-55 Monday night.
"I've heard it's more easy, approachable, down to earth, 'What can I do for you?' kind of guy."
Auriemma said Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione gave Manuel a ringing endorsement when asked about him.
"I respect Joe as much maybe as much if not more than any AD in America and so do a lot of other people. If Joe speaks very highly of you, then that means you're a pretty good guy," Auriemma said.
Manuel said the only thing that gave him a slight pause about taking the job was the uncertainty in the national conference landscape. He said the recent changes have puzzled him personally, but he's confident Connecticut will do well either in the Big East or another conference.Comment on this story
"I wasn't going to let those little things in my mind, whether it's APR, a coach that has a back injury, Big East realignment, conference realignment in general, deter me from being at a great institution and a place that I have high regard for and a lot of respect," he said.
The school said Manuel will sign a five-year contract with a base salary of $450,000 with a school option for a two-year extension. He also will be eligible for a $100,000 annual bonus if certain academic and athletic goals are met, and another $100,000 in deferred compensation.
AP sports writers John Wawrow in Buffalo and Jeff Latzke in Norman, Okla., contributed to this report.