Whenever there’s a coaching change, a lot of people’s worlds get turned upside down. Although most of the attention is focused on the players, they are not the only ones with an uncertain future. Seldom does a head coach take all his staff with him to his new destination, and there are certainly no guarantees that the incoming head coach will retain the holdovers. Although UC running back coach, Roy Manning, is trying to keep his players focused, he admits the present situation is far from ideal.
“It’s challenging,” said Manning shortly after Friday’s bowl practice. “You can’t worry about the things that are out of your control. I just need to keep pressing forward and have faith and confidence that I end up where I’m supposed to end up.”
After an excellent career as an outside linebacker at Michigan from 2000 to 2004, Manning signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. Even then, his future was always uncertain as he had short stints with the Texans, Bills, Jaguars and Bengals from 2005 to 2007.
Manning joined the UC staff as a defensive grad assistant in 2010 before returning to Michigan as a grad assistant in 2011. He worked with the offensive line for the Wolverines for that one year, but a staff opening at UC brought the 31-year-old back to the Queen City as the Bearcats’ running back coach this season. Despite being young, Manning has already developed some versatility as he’s coached linebackers, offensive linemen and running backs.
“That’s part of that change that I’ve talked about,” smiled Manning. “You have to have trust and confidence in who you are and your abilities, and you roll with it. It was a pleasant surprise to get on this (offensive) side of the ball.”
Manning realizes the sudden and unexpected changes in his life have only served to make him a better coach.
“It gives me an advantage because I can talk to my guys (running backs) about a lot of the defensive things they haven’t picked up along the way. When you talk about coaching, you really need to know a lot of things on both sides of the football.”
The soft-spoken assistant coach is very popular with many of the UC players.
“It definitely makes me feel good that the kids respect me,” he said. “I don’t take one day for granted. I truly enjoy what I do and coming to work. These kids energize me and keep me young. I’m blessed and privileged to be in this position.”
Because of his uncertain future, this bachelor is glad he doesn’t have others counting on him to bring home a pay check, but he's also hoping that will eventually change.
“I’m not married and have no kids so that is a plus right now, but I’m looking forward to that one day. It does make it a little easier that I don’t have someone at home depending on me, but on the other side of that, I’d like to have someone in my corner when I go through the tough times. I do have some great support with great friends and family. They keep me going.”
Despite the undeniable personal angst that has to exist, Manning refuses to worry about his future.
“My focus has been on the players,” he said. “I want to be sure they’re doing okay, and I want to keep going for them and this bowl game. I try not to focus on myself. The one thing I learned in the NFL (five different teams) is how to deal with adversity. This isn’t unfamiliar ground for me. It’s just dealing with the same issue in a different profession. I’m going to keep moving forward.”
Duke will have all nine assistant coaches and head coach, David Cutcliffe, for the Belk Bowl as well as a partisan crowd. On the other hand, Cincinnati will have only five position coaches that are filling in as the head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. The odds are stacked against them in this bowl game.
“This is their (Duke's) 100th year of football, and this is basically a home game for them,” said Manning. “The chips might be stacked against us, but we can’t focus on that. At the end of the day, there are going to be eleven helmets out there versus their eleven. I’m not a guy that looks for a reason why something can’t be done. I look for reasons why it can be done.”
The Belk Bowl might be the last time Coach Manning wears the “C” paw, but like any optimist, he’s keeping a positive attitude.
“Staying here would be awesome, but it’s really out of my hands. I’m expecting the best and hoping for the best, but we’ll have to see what happens.”