The Warde – Manual
Published: Monday, April 25, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
When Warde Manuel took over the reins of UB Athletics in 2005, drastic change was imminent; just how much, surprised even Manuel himself.
Manuel is the athletic director at the University at Buffalo and was hired at a time when UB Athletics was in shambles. In his time at UB, he has orchestrated the success six Mid-American Conference championship teams and has brought UB Athletics to a level of respectability.
There are many words that can describe Manuel, but in the case of former swimmer Zach Ruske, nothing works better than approachable.
In his third year, Manuel decided it was time for a new direction for the swimming program at UB, so he combined the men's and women's team under the direction of Andy Bashor. Ruske, the 400-Individual Medley record holder at UB, wasn't happy about the switch.
"The change in coaching was sort of a shock to me and my teammates," Ruske said. "We didn't understand why it was happening so we just went in and asked [Manuel], ‘Hey, what's going on? The swim team wants to know. We feel like we deserve to know why you're letting our coach go.'"
Ruske questioned Manuel and asked him how he could make a decision regarding the swimming coach when the student athletes on the team never see him at meets. Manuel was stunned and explained to Ruske how he attends most of the meets and is in the stands cheering on the team.
The problem Ruske had was that Manuel wasn't visible on the deck.
"Part of my thinking coming in as the athletic director is that I don't need to be around, I don't need to have them see me all the time," Manuel said. "I'm there to cheer them on and support them. Zach changed me, and my outlook on how to really let them know I'm present and that I'm there for them."
The relationship that blossomed between the two following the change was built on respect and admiration. Even after almost a year since graduating, Ruske still holds Manuel in the highest regard.
"Warde is a great, genuine, and understanding person," Ruske said. "He listens, it wasn't like I was just going in there and he was like ‘Oh it's just another athlete upset about a coaching change.' I was able to gain things from him. I would have to say he was the most influential person in my time at UB."
Junior shooting guard Zach Filzen also has a lot of respect for Manuel. He spoke about Warde's ability to demonstrate how a person should act and said he's learned a lot about leadership from him.
"He has a personality that commands respect," Filzen said. "I think he leads by example and he's a hard worker. He was an athlete himself so he knows what it's like from our standpoint."
To truly understand Manuel, it's essential to know where he came from. He was born and raised in New Orleans, La. His father was a manager at the French Quarter Postal System and his mother was a secretary in a middle school in the New Orleans public school district.
Manuel's family upbringing continues to manifest in the way he treats people.
Rodney McKissic of The Buffalo News has covered UB Athletics since 2001. He's met numerous athletic directors around the country and says that Manuel is one of a kind.
"He'll walk around and speak to people he doesn't know," McKissic said. "He's going around shaking hands with people. To me, that's the southern gentleman coming out in him. He's just very friendly, an extremely nice guy, very passionate about what he does. He is in fact a genuine person. He's always got that smile going and he's very easy to talk to."
Manuel went to the University of Michigan, where he played football and received a Masters Degree in social work and an MBA in business. Going back as far as he can remember, Manuel has always been a strong proponent of strengthening his community in any way that he can.
At Michigan, Manuel studied and researched ways in which community centers played a role in safer and more satisfying community life. His major focus was on how sports can bring inner city kids to a place where solid morals and values could be taught and learned under the premise of athletics.
"My mom and dad, when I first started in athletics brought me to the Gernon Brown Community Center in New Orleans," Manuel said. "In that center, I played basketball, I also took piano lessons briefly…A lot of that has gone away. A lot of community centers have closed down, they don't do the programming that they used to, and they don't have all the sports they used to have."