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,” says Mann, who was introduced in June as William & Mary’s 30th athletics 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 health care 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,” says Hilary Mann, Brian’s wife. “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 says. “So Brian and I would have all kinds of conversations about the business of health care.
“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 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 athletics 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 athletics development initiatives.
In February 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 says. “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 both considered to be 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,” says Hilary, a graduate of Texas Tech who teaches middle school. “He wasn’t just trying to be an athletics director. He wanted it to be at a specific type of school.”
A New Home in Williamsburg
Mann took over as AD on Aug. 9. For the month leading up to that date, he served as special assistant to the president for athletics while he, Hilary and their 10-week-old son, Russell, made 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 had 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 says. “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.”