Although real, actual football will finally be played in a little over three weeks, the next, most crucial, step in extinguishing the smoldering tire fire that lingers in Chapel Hill is the hiring of a new athletic director. The level of stability in this position has been simply amazing, given that UNC has only had two athletic directors in over 30 years. But the situation in which the new person will find themselves is as crucial of a time in UNC's athletic history as can be imagined.
Michelle Hillison at Inside Carolina has put together an amazingly comprehensive list of potential known candidates (subscription required for link). Since it would be difficult to duplicate her exhaustive work, here is some commentary on some of the leading candidates:
First, there are the internal candidates. This list includes:
- Beth Miller, senior associate AD for Olympic sports;
- Matt Kupec, former UNC quarterback and current vice chancellor for university advancement; and
- Rick Steinbacher, former UNC linebacker and associate AD for marketing and promotions, along with being known as a sideline reporter for the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Dr. Miller is a strong administrator, as evidenced by the success of UNC's Olympic sports programs, but she is in her early 60s and would probably not be a long-term solution. Kupec is immensely popular in the Carolina community and has been outstanding in his role as UNC's chief academic fundraiser and would be a strong bridge between the academic and athletic worlds; however he is lacking in direct athletic department experience. Like Kupec, Steiny is very popular around UNC but for a brief stint in the business world, he has spent his practically his entire career at UNC. The sentiment from both the pro-Butch and pro-Thorp camps is that smart money is on the next AD coming from outside the university, so any of these three would probably be a long shot at best.
As for external candidates, four chief targets have emerged on the early wish lists:
- Eric Hyman. former UNC football player and current AD at South Carolina;
- Norwood Teague, UNC alumnus and former UNC associate athletic director, current AD at Virginia Commonwealth;
- Danny Morrison, president of the Carolina Panthers; and
- Charles Waddell, a former three-sport athlete at UNC and current associate AD at South Carolina under Hyman.
Hyman was probably UNC's top choice, as an experienced AD with big-time credentials. But SCAR headed UNC off at the pass, signing Hyman to a new contract and a $75,000 raise. Morrison, an NC native, certainly has the NFL-type experience the football-first crowd craves, as well as experience as both an AD at Wofford and TCU and was commissioner of the Southern Conference. The problem is that, to leave his position with the Panthers, Morrison would probably need a salary far above what UNC has paid at the administrative level before.
Waddell has a diversity of experience he brings to the table. He played in the NFL, worked in the UNC athletic department, was a vice chancellor at Fayetteville State, and is now enjoying success at SCAR. He has experience on both the academic and athletic sides, and would be ground-breaking as UNC's first African-American athletic director. As IC's Hillson describes it, Waddell "would be a safe, comfortable pick." But with no experience leading a department, would be be the right choice at this crucial juncture?
Teague might be the most intriguing candidate. Thought by many to be the sure successor to Baddour, Teague has gained acclaim for his leadership at VCU, bolstered by the miracle run of the basketball team to this year's Final Four. Teague hired Shaka Smart, and then in a brilliant stroke, was able to keep Smart at VCU after being wooed by a number of big-time programs. Teague himself is rumored to have turned down the Miami AD job this spring. Teague is young, dynamic, and certainly on his way up. His major drawback as it relates to UNC's current situation is that VCU does not play football, but at UNC he worked closely with football.
The catch is, as AD search committee member Eric Montross pointed out on the David Glenn Show on Wednesday, that while football is a driving factor in the selection process, it is only but a part of it. The next 5-7 years could see a changing of the guard of four or five of the cornerstones of UNC's athletic program, as Roy Williams, Anson Dorrance, Karen Shelton, and Sylvia Hatchell, as well as possibly Mike Fox will all be approaching retirement range. This is why the AD hire could be the most crucial in UNC sports history, at least in terms of the overall program.
With that in mind, I hope that the committee will at least consider sitting athletic directors from Division I FBS schools who already have significant experience in the areas in which UNC will need key leadership. Certainly someone would look at UNC's comprehensive, perennial-top-5-in-the-Director's-Cup program and consider it a prime, career-stop job. If Duke can lure someone like Kevin White away from Notre Dame, then UNC would certainly be in the mix for a similarly-qualified person. And that is not to say that Teague, Waddell, or any of the other mentioned candidates are not capable; rather, a rising tide floats all boats, and that UNC should only shoot for the highest caliber of administrator for the AD position.