clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UNC Board of Trustees to Meet, Probably Hire New AD

New, comment

The UNC Board of Trustees has called an emergency meeting for 9 am Friday, with a press conference to follow at eleven. The logical inference is the hiring of a new athletic director, and the presumed hire is the current AD at Tulsa, Lawrence "Bubba" Cunningham. 

Cunningham got his start at his alma mater, Notre Dame, where he worked in the athletic department for 15 years, rising to the positions of associate director for finance and facilities ('95-'00) and external affairs ('00-'02). Which means yes, he was high up in the athletic department when Matt Doherty was hired there in 1999. Cunningham left to take the head job at Ball State, which he held until taking his current position in 2005. He almost took the athletic director position at Kansas this past December, only to return to Tulsa at the last moment.

But with a football coaching hire on the horizon, what you really want to know is Cunningham's track record in picking coaches. His first hire at Ball State was pretty auspicious, as he signed alumnus Brady Hoke, then an associate coach at Michigan. Hoke would only have two winning seasons in five years, but they were the last two, and a 12-1 finish in 2008 got him the job at San Diego State, where after two seasons he would return to Michigan as their head coach.

At Tulsa, he soon had to replace Steve Kragthorpe, who was leaving for Louisville. He hired Todd Graham, who had been defensive coordinator under Kragthorpe until becoming the head coach at Rice. In three of his four seasons at Tulsa the Golden Flashes finished with 10 or more wins; Graham was hired away by Pittsburgh before the current season. This time, Cunningham promoted from within, naming receivers coach Bill Blakenship to the head position. Blakenship was a very successful high school coach before becoming a member of Graham's staff, so it wasn't as out of left field as it sounds. Tulsa is currently 2-3 this season. It's worth noting that while at Tulsa, Graham hired Gus Malzahn ad his offensive coordinator; Malzahn would move on to Auburn after a year, and his credited in large part with the Tigers' BCS championship last season.

Cunnigham has never made a basketball hire at either Ball State or Tulsa. He has extended the contract of Tulsa's coach, Doug Wojcik, numerous times, keeping him in Oklahoma despite his name popping up in conjunction with most open positions of the last few years. Wojcik, of course, was an assistant under Doherty at Notre Dame and UNC; his last position before taking the Tulsa job was as an assistant for the Michigan State team that lost in the Final Four to the Heels in 2005.  

I'll be honest. I am completely unqualified to judge the suitability of an athletic director hire. I'm not particularly enthused by the qualities that are continuously brought up in profiles of Cunningham, as they mainly seem to center around his marketing ability, and the numerous facilities expansions made at Tulsa over the last six years. Admirable qualities though they may be, buildings and apparel deals aren't the biggest problems on UNC's plate at the moment. But this entire director search has been done in secret, so I have no idea who else was available, how people performed in interviews, or if Cunningham truly is the best man for the job. He's got a big coaching hire and an NCAA investigation on his plate as soon as he steps through the door, so I hope he's ready for it.

Also interesting to note, just prior to this hiring UNC has extended the contracts of Roy Williams, Sylvia Hatchell and Mike Fox through 2018. Which I suppose does make a new athletic director's job a little easier.