SHREVEPORT, La. -- Holiday shopping shed a light on what Marcus Manning wanted to be.
A retail manager wasn't it.
After graduating from Quincy University in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in business management, Manning set his sights on becoming a hotel manager. With no available jobs in the hotel business, the former QU quarterback took a job at Champs Sports as a manager trainee.
"I went through a couple holiday seasons and I said I've got to do something that I love," Manning said.
So after the holiday rush subsided and Manning was certain he didn't want to endure another winter catering to Christmas shoppers, he reached out to someone he trusted wholeheartedly for advice on how to shift gears.
He called Jim Naumovich.
"I told him I want to do something I love, but I don't want to go into coaching," Manning said of his conversation with Naumovich, the former Quincy University athletic director who is now the commissioner of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. "I told him I think I want to be an athletic director."
An hour-long conversation ensued, and Manning's path changed forever.
Two decades later, Manning is still in the game as the athletic director at Centenary College, an NCAA Division III program with 21 varsity sports and one club sport. It's an ever-growing campus, which recently added men's and women's track and field, cross country and competitive dance and has designs on further growth.
"We have a lot of white space, and what I mean by that is there is a lot of opportunity for growth," Manning said. "So we're really working at that in order to provide opportunities for students. I love that."
Manning is entering his third year as the leader of the Centenary athletic department after spending six years as the athletic director at Maryville University. He's also worked as an administrator with the NAIA and as the athletic director at Indiana University South Bend.
That came after earning a graduate degree in sports management from SIU-Edwardsville and that fateful phone call with Naumovich.
"He provided me a road map with how I can become an athletic director," Manning said. "The first step was to go to grad school and try to get a grad assistant position and then go from there. He basically laid the foundation and the playbook for me to become an athletic director.
"He told me, ‘Get your foot in the door and go from there.' He laid it out for me. I wouldn't be where I'm at without his help and his guidance."
Those at Centenary should consider themselves fortunate Naumovich offered great advice because Manning is leading the way on diversity and inclusion, a process that began before recent events such as the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests against police brutality.
Manning was involved in conversations with Centenary's student government association in April to create dialogue about matters facing students campus-wide. Those conversations led to dialogue with Centenary's student-athletes about diversity and inclusion within the athletic department.
In the midst of a pandemic, Manning brought in DaWon Baker, the director of diversity and inclusion at the University of Nebraska, to do a Zoom training session with the Gents' coaching staff.
"He was phenomenal working with our coaches," Manning said.
Everything that has happened and every conversation that has taken place because of it has made Centenary a more understanding and embracing campus. Manning plays a major role in that.
Tuesday, he was named the recipient of the David Womack Award, giving to a faculty/staff member who gives attention to working across divisional and departmental lines, to building bridges and to being intentionally inclusive of all members of the Centenary campus community.
"I embrace the opportunity," Manning said about being a leader. "During this time, I have to help rally the troops and be in a position where I have to be empathetic, I have to be decisive, I have to be able to listen and make hard decisions and I have to be able to communicate with different constituent groups.
"I feel blessed, humbled and honored to be in a position where we can have opportunities like this, even during adverse situations. When you go through adverse situations, it can build relationship equity. Just like playing football, when you go through adverse situations, you build that relationship equity."
Manning went through the ups and downs at Quincy.
He was part of two teams that won Illini-Badger Conference championships and also quarterbacked the Hawks through the transition to NCAA Division II. As a senior, Manning completed 43 of 86 passes for 507 yards and four touchdowns before switching to wide receiver late in the season.
In his career, Manning completed 160 of 325 passes for 2,108 yards and 15 TDs.
"The relationships and the memories from there are great," Manning said. "Can't thank Quincy enough for those opportunities. It taught me real life circumstances. It taught me how to deal with adversity, how to communicate with your peers and lead your peers. It taught me how to deal with success and how to deal with failure."
It put him on the path to develop into the respected leader he has become.