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John’s Journal: Rosemount’s Manning Reflects On 27 Years As An A.D.

‘I think fan behavior might be the biggest challenge. I'm not going to miss that.’

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 9:01 PM


At the end of the school year, Mike Manning will retire after 27 years as the athletic director at Rosemount High School.

Mike Manning is one of the longest-serving athletic directors in Minnesota, having spent 27 years in that position at Rosemount High School. Mike has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the 2022-23 school year, which will leave big shoes to fill. He has been a role model for many, including coaches and administrators at Rosemount and other schools.

Mike was a guest on my “Preps Today with John Millea” podcast recently and we talked about a range of topics. It was a very interesting discussion, and below are edited excerpts from that discussion.

Question: Can you tell us about your own experiences in high school?

Mike Manning: I had a great experience growing up in in Hopkins. It was Hopkins Eisenhower at the time, and we had the rival high school, Lindbergh. They closed Eisenhower about a year after I graduated. I just had a wonderful experience. I played football, I played basketball, I played baseball, all in the Lake Conference. I was fortunate enough to have Tom Hutton as my basketball coach in high school and he sure taught me a lot. I'm the youngest of six and have just great memories of growing up in a very small town at the time.

Question: What about college?

Mike Manning: I went to St. John's and I didn't play any sports my first year. I had a chance to play some college football, but I made the decision to go to St. John's and not play and I missed it so darn much. My freshman year we had intramurals and what they called “bookstore basketball” but it just wasn't quite enough for me. And some other guys talked me into trying out for the basketball team my sophomore year. So I had three wonderful years with (coach) Jim Smith on the basketball team. Jim was incredibly kind to me. To tell a quick story about Jim, I got a chance to be the head coach at St. Thomas Academy when I was very young in my career, at 27. And I called Jim to just ask advice and things like that. And Jim offered to bring the team down and put on a clinic for all of the eighth-grade boys in the Catholic grade schools in St. Paul. And he also offered to put on a coaches clinic for all of the Catholic grade school coaches. And so for me in my first year, 27 years old and nobody knew who I was, to have somebody of Jim Smith’s caliber go out of his way and load up the basketball team and bring them down and put on a clinic ... It was a incredible night that helped boost my career. And Jim did things like that for me all the time. So, again, I have great memories of being at St. John's and I learned a ton from Jim Smith.

I took a year off after my junior year at St. John's. They had a grant where you did missionary work for a year and I ended up teaching and coaching in Compton (California). That would have been about 1984 and I had kind of an amazing experience. I lived there at the parish and taught in their school. And that really changed my life and I ended up coming back and I was thinking I was going to go to law school and follow my brother into the law. But I decided to teach and coach and went that direction instead. But it was really what happened to me during that year in Compton. That changed all of that for me.

At Eisenhower my athletic director was George Reynolds. He was an incredible golfer. I tell this story but I don't know how true it is, but every time I walked by George's office when I was a junior and senior in high school, he was putting and practicing his putting in his office. And I thought. “You know what? That might not be a bad job for me to go into.” And I ran into Georgia a lot when I started my career as an A.D. I always wanted to end up as a principal and I thought being an A.D. was a good stepping stone to that. I didn't realize I'd get stranded in this job and be here for as long as I've been.

Question: What’s the job description for an A.D.?

Mike Manning: Wow, anything and everything.  I think it varies from place to place. I think in greater Minnesota it's more of a focus just on athletics. Here in District 196 (which also includes Apple Valley, Eagan and Eastview), they want all of the athletic directors to be assistant principals, too. So I'd say about 40 percent of my day is taking care of academic departments. I supervise our buildings and grounds and take care of a number of academic things. And then the other 60 percent is athletics. And fortunately, I've always had two of the most unbelievable assistants that an athletic director could ever have in Marsha Schultz and Mary Hautman. They do the lion's share of my work as an athletic director. And I'm so grateful. I couldn't do the job without what they did for me.

I was at a private school, St. Thomas Academy, for 10 years before I came here, and I had to commute to work 25 minutes each way. And we did some academic studying after school, then had basketball practice. So I learned early on, in my 20s and early 30s, that I had a crushing schedule. Then when I took this job it actually was better for my family because I live about 30 seconds from school. So I could get home, see the kids, have dinner and then come back for evening events. I think that's what drives most people out of the profession. After a short period of time it’s difficult on a family with how many hours you put in in a week.

Question: What are the biggest challenges of the job?

Mike Manning:  I think certainly the schedule is a challenge. And I think fan behavior might be the biggest challenge. I'm not going to miss that. I love so much working with our athletes and watching my coaches. I've been really fortunate, I've hired some good coaches that have been with me, most of them for 20-plus years, and to see them kind of use the art of coaching and how they impact lives, it's a beautiful thing. But gosh, parents have always been a challenge and they continue to be a challenge. I think with a lot of young A.D.s, they just get tired of all of the complaining and all of the problem-solving that a job like this is forced to deal with.

Question: Who has been important in your career?

Mike Manning: You know, it's interesting. As I wind down I've had a chance to reflect on some of these topics. And I think about the people that helped me get through this profession. John, you're an example of somebody that I got to know that was a real positive in my life. And there's been about a dozen of those kinds of people that have come through my life in the last 39 years that have sustained me. You know, (Minnetonka A.D.) Ted Schultz, he and I have been very, very close. Scott Larsen, who was a longtime athletic director (at Apple Valley) and still is involved in running our conference and our section. People like Joe Dolan. He was an A.D. in Bloomington for probably a decade and he passed away too early. But I look at those three, and they helped me so much to just kind of listen to me, give me advice, they helped me through the difficult times, and I really don't know if I could have sustained 27 years as the A.D. without that.

Question: What will retirement be like for you?

Mike Manning: Well, I'm going to try to avoid conflict, if that's possible. That's my goal. I have a cabin up north, I’m very grateful to have spent summers up there. We have four children who are all off in their careers, and I have eight grandchildren. I've tried to buy each of my grandkids a set of golf clubs and my goal was to teach each of the eight grandchildren how to golf. When I told this to my brother, “Don't teach them what an awful swing you’ve got.” I hope to travel with my wife and spend time with our family. I'm going to build a woodshop up at our cabin in the near future, and that's going to be kind of the core of some of what I hope to do.

--Listen to the podcast by clicking  here:

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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