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Athletics kept calling him back, and Brian Mann is glad he answered

Brian Mann grew up playing just about any sport you could name, but nothing beat football in a blizzard. Even if that meant being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by his older brothers, who would spare him no mercy.

Those were Mann's formative years in Canton, Massachusetts, which he stresses is "south of Boston, not South Boston." For Mann and his four siblings — two brothers, two sisters, he bats fourth in the lineup — sports were a large slice of life.

Mom and Dad went along with it … to a point.

"They made it very clear to us in the beginning that academics would take precedence over everything we did," said Mann, who last week was introduced as William & Mary's 30th athletic director. "As long as we did that, they'd sign us up for any sport or any team they possibly could.

"There used to be hanging in our kitchen an oversized calendar, and it was color coded by kid and by sport. It was almost like they'd get home from work and say, 'All right, who's taking which kid to which sport?'"

A love of sports and understanding of priorities took Mann to Dartmouth College, where he became a record-setting quarterback and earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in liberal studies. It led to a path in sports administration, which began at his alma mater and has brought him to Williamsburg.

There were some gap years after college. From 2003-06, Mann played for the Los Angeles Avengers in the Arena Football League. He worked for a couple of years with a consulting group in New York and a healthcare firm in D.C. And, as you might have heard by now, he dabbled in show biz.

But athletics, and the opportunity to help shape young lives, had a hold on him.

"It's hard to find that perfect career for people, myself included, but I definitely think he found it," said Hilary Mann, Brian's wife of 19 months. "He's a good leader and he's passionate about it. It's like all the stars aligned, and this is what he's meant to be doing."

Caleb Moore, a former Dartmouth teammate who remains a close friend, could see it developing.

"He was doing consulting for hospital systems, and I was a pre-med undergrad who got interested in the business of medicine," Moore said. "So Brian and I would have all kinds of conversations about the business of healthcare.

"But invariably, it would always turn back to 'Gosh, the best things we ever did and the best people we've ever met have been through sports.' You could tell that was what he wanted to get back to professionally. It was a natural fit for him."
'A specific type of school'

In 2009, at age of 29, Mann returned to Dartmouth as director of football operations. Part of the job was fundraising, which he figured his background in sales would help.

That transitioned to assistant athletics director for external relations, in which he helped raise funds from the athletic alumni. In 2013, he was named managing director for leadership giving, which meant securing major gifts for the college.

Then came Rice, where in less than three years he was elevated from director of development to chief development officer and senior associate athletics director. He was in charge of all athletic development initiatives.

In February of 2019, Mann headed west to the University of California, Berkeley. He had the same title he did at Rice, but the setting was very different. Dartmouth and Rice are private schools with four-figure enrollments. Cal is public with more than 40,000 students.

Mann wasn't there long, but he had an impact.

"When I hired Brian, I knew he was going to be good," Cal AD Jim Knowlton said. "And every day he just got better and better and better. He put his hand on this program and had a vision where he wanted it to go. He became a senior leader in our department who was really, really well respected.

"There hasn't been one person here who said 'Good riddance, we finally got rid of Brian Mann.' It's been, 'Jim, why didn't you keep him? Were you asleep at the switch?' I tried to keep him hidden here at Cal for another five years, but it didn't work."

There is an obvious pattern to Mann's four stops in college athletics. Dartmouth is an Ivy League school. Rice is one of the most selective colleges in the nation. Cal and W&M are considered as a "Public Ivy." The complete package matters to him.

"I knew he wanted to help athletes, but he wanted to help them at high-level academic schools," said Hilary, a graduate of Texas Tech who teaches middle school. "He wasn't just trying to be an athletic director. He wanted it to be a specific type of school."

A charmed life
Now that he's on his way to Williamsburg, let's go over some Brian Mann Trivia.
  • At Xaverian Brothers High School, Mann followed two eventual NFL quarterbacks — Matt and Tim Hasselbeck. Mann was Tim's backup as a sophomore before starting his last two seasons.
  • Nearly two decades later, Mann still holds Dartmouth's single-season passing record with 2,913 yards. Jay Fiedler, who played eight seasons in the NFL, is second. Mann is third on the Big Green's career list with 5,912 yards.
  • After graduation, Mann played four seasons with the Los Angeles Avengers in the Arena Football League. According to arenafan.com, his career passing stats are 96-for-170 (57%) for 1,224 yards, 19 touchdowns, and four interceptions.
  • Though born and raised 20 miles south of Boston, Mann doesn't talk like Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting." In fact, because he's moved around, there's no traceable accent at all. "But anytime I get around my brothers," he said, "it comes back wicked hahd."
  • Mann has visited 49 of the 50 states. He and Hilary were supposed to knock out No. 50, Hawaii, on their honeymoon in March of 2020. And, well, you know what happened.
  • Those tight spirals you thought Adam Sandler threw in "The Longest Yard" remake? That was Mann. He was Sandler's stunt double, which means he did all the football stuff — throwing passes, yes, but also taking vicious hits from guard stunt doubles Bill Romanowski and Brian Bosworth.
  • His most famous receiver ever, there can be no debate, is Lady Gaga. Super Bowl LI was played in Houston (Mann was at Rice at the time), and Gaga was to cap her halftime performance by catching a football while jumping into an off-camera foam pit. Her crewmembers were inconsistent with their throws, so production called Rice's athletic department.

One thing led to another, and Mann nailed the toss. As for the game itself, his beloved Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

"'Charmed' is the word my wife always uses to describe Brian," Moore said. "He would always have these stories, and you'd be like, 'Wait a second, you did what?'"

A new home in Williamsburg

Mann will take over as AD on Aug. 9. For the month leading up to that date, he will serve as special assistant to the president for athletics while he, Hilary, and 10-week-old son Russell make the 2,900-mile move from Berkeley to Williamsburg.

Only 12 years ago, Mann's career path came to a crossroads. He wasn't enjoying what he was doing and knew something else was out there. He knew that something else involved athletics. So although he was closing in on 30, he took a shot.

It didn't take long to realize he made the right call.

"I remember sitting in my office one night a few months in, long after everyone had gone home, and it dawned on me I was going to do this for the next 35 years," he said. "A calm came over me, and ever since then, I've been able to make decisions based on a 35-year arc.

"If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't be here today. And it gives me the confidence to say I'm right where I belong and I look forward to being a part of this family for a long time."