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Manuel's earning his 'rock star' status

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 02. 2014 4:00AM

Lincoln, Neb.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that UConn athletic director Warde Manuel was set to discuss a contract extension with Kevin Ollie. Manuel said Monday night after the UConn women emerged from mid America with another Final Four trip that he'd sit down with Ollie at the end of the season.

"Kevin has taken it to another level," Manuel said. "Now I've got to work to take it to another level with him."

Powerful words.

And great to hear, particularly if you have an affinity for UConn. Not just because you'll keep a young coach who made the Final Four in his first NCAA tournament. But because your athletic department isn't about to relive sins of the past.

This is significant. Manuel knows a good coach when he sees one. And it invites this question: If Manuel's predecessor was as astute, would UConn have been relegated to the American Athletic Conference?

Here's what I mean: If Jeff Hathaway worked as hard to retain Randy Edsall in the month between the Big East football championship and the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, would Edsall have left for Maryland? Edsall has said several times since his departure that no one from UConn reached out to him or his agent during a month of national hosannas for UConn football.

Would the program have taken such a nosedive had Edsall remained here? Had the program remained at the Edsall level - seven, eight, nine wins every year and a bowl game - would UConn's athletic resume have been more appealing during expansion and realignment?

The answer to all those questions: Who knows? It's conjecture, particularly with so many variables swimming in the morass of the process. But it does make you wonder, no?

The second Dave Teggart's kick cut through the Tampa night and between the uprights, Hathaway should have been devising ways to keep Edsall, whose accomplishments in a short time were remarkable. The struggles since his departure support that premise.

This is not to lament Edsall's exit or pick at old scabs, especially given that new coach Bob Diaco appears to have more energy than United Illuminating. Rather, this is to salute The New UConn. The better UConn. Now we have Manuel conducting business in a way that should make his constituency proud. His words again: Kevin's taken it to another level. Now we've got to do the same for him. The best quote of the whole postseason.

Lest we forget Geno Auriemma's words from last week about how the athletic department is happier and more together than ever.

"I think 'all in' is really cool," Auriemma said, alluding to a newer, fresher attitude, fostered through Manuel's leadership style, whose byproducts are better communication and more camaraderie.

"Warde is very hands on," Auriemma was saying. "He's constantly interacting, not just from up top. Down here, too. There's head coaches meetings once a month. We're all there and get to talk about whatever we want. We're interacting with all the other coaches more than we ever did in the past. You get to talk to guys about whatever they're doing. It's really cool. It's just easy. Period."

Auriemma used that word - easy - several times. Easy. This just in: He never used that word much before. Nobody else in the athletic department did either.

"It's just easy. That's the best word I can use to describe it," Auriemma said. "There were things here that had always been difficult for no reason. Now it's easy. Just easy."

This is a great time for UConn. The fan base, so vexed by being ignored in the realignment process, gets to holler we-told-you-sos. And they're right. They get to celebrate two teams in the Final Four. They get to revel in being one of the two most prominent national sports stories of the week: baseball's return and the men and women of Storrs.

But the greatest story of them all for UConn and its fans: The athletic department's caretaker is every bit the "rock star" president Susan Herbst called him the day he was hired. They're "all in," as Geno says. It's easy to be all in when your boss' mien seeks to unite, not polarize. Enjoy it, folks. UConn athletics are in good hands.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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