Manuel played high school football at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. He was a first team high school All-American. He enrolled at the University of Michigan where he played defensive tackle for the Wolverines from 1986 to 1989 before suffering a career-ending neck injury.
Manuel developed his management skills as assistant athletic director and then associate AD at the University of Michigan. He credits Michigan coaches and staff for his success, including Bo Schembechler, Stephen Ross, and Greg Harden, now Director of Athletic Counseling at U-M.
Manuel was responsible for the hiring of Turner Gill as the head coach of Buffalo's football team. Under Gill the team achieved its first winning season and first invitation to a post season bowl game since the program joined Division I (NCAA) athletics in 1999. Manuel has helped change Buffalo's image and marketing strategy. Immediately after he took office, Manuel replaced the old "Bull Head" logo with a sleeker, more modern bull. Manuel also increased the athletics budget from $11 million to $25 million within three years of his hiring.