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Bubba Cunningham Named UNC Athletic Director


At an emergency Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning, a motion to approve Cunningham passed unanimously. The terms of his deal that run through June 2017, are a $525,000 base salary, $40,000 in expenses and bonuses based on football performance, men's and women's basketball performance and APR scores.

Cunningham will replace Dick Baddour, who asked on July 28 that a search for his replacement begin after 14 years in the position and just one day after the university announced the firing of former head football coach Butch Davis.

The 49-year-old Cunningham takes the position just two weeks before the university is set to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis following NCAA and university investigations into the Tar Heel football program.

The question of whether UNC would be willing to pay more for an athletic director gets answered upfront. Dick Baddour was making $295,000 base salary. Bubba will see $130,000 more plus an expense account and performance bonuses. Tar Heel Blue's Adam Lucas already has a column posted introducing the new AD with a press conference forthcoming where we will hear directly from Bubba himself.

Here is Bubba's bio from Tulsa's official web site to give you an idea of his experience and resume. In my opinion and one shared by most people at this point, UNC has scored a solid hire here. Granted this is not a "big time" BCS AD like Duke got with Kevin White or even NC State with Debbie Yow. However there is plenty of evidence to suggest Bubba is a rising star among athletic directors. During his six years at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes won 34 Conference USA titles and was highly regarded by everyone who worked with him, including the local media whom he met monthly for brunch. As for coaching hires, which is really the first standard we judge ADs by, Bubba hired Brady Hoke when he was at Ball State and Todd Graham at Tulsa. Both coaches were very successful at those schools with Hoke to San Diego St. then Michigan. Graham is now at Pittsburgh. Graham posted three ten win seasons in Tulsa while Hoke took over a struggling Ball St team that finished 12-1 in his final year before leaving for Ann Arbor.

Bubba is 49-years old which means he has plenty of time to grow into the role he has shown tremendous potential for. His age means he can have a long tenure at the helm of the UNC athletic department which would put him in a position to hire Roy Williams' replacement some time over the next ten years. The overall reception for Bubba seems to be positive, even among the always fickle message board crowd who have embraced the hire.

Two other important notes. One, hiring a big time AD doesn't always mean success. As much Kevin White is a "big time" AD having come from Notre Dame to Duke, he also made some very questionable hires for football coach there. That is to say no one is perfect and there is risk involved with any candidate whether they are from a BCS school or a smaller school like Tulsa. Secondly, while this will fall on deaf ears, it should be noted that since Holden Thorp' poor execution and timing with firing Butch Davis, I am not sure we could have asked things to go any better. The football team is 5-1 and should win at least seven games, possibly more. The AD search was handled extremely well and for all Thorp's missteps in the way Davis was fired, he knew enough to get out of the way and let the experts in collegiate athletics handle the search. So if you want to go one being pissed at Thorp because you continue to be butthurt of Davis being fired, go ahead. However I am hard pressed to see how UNC is worse off. The season is going well and two weeks before the COI hearing UNC has a solid AD hire in place who can get a jump on setting the football coaching position by the end of the season. Granted there is no honeymoon for Bubba facing a coaching hire and NCAA penalties but for as bad as things looked in early August, they are in great shape now.

We will have full rundown of Bubba's press conference later in the day. Until then, join me in welcoming Bubba to Chapel Hill.