UNC names Cunningham new athletic director
Posted October 12, 2011
Updated October 14, 2011
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The University of North Carolina has named University of Tulsa athletic director Lawrence 'Bubba' Cunningham the seventh athletic director in school history.
At an emergency Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning, a motion to approve Cunningham passed unanimously. His contract, which becomes effective Nov. 14 and runs through June 2017, will pay Cunningham a base salary of $525,000, $40,000 in expenses and bonuses based on football performance, men's and women's basketball performance and APR scores.
"The search committee's charge was to find the best person in America; Bubba Cunningham is that person," said Chancellor Holden Thorp."
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 most difficult thing for today is to thank Dickie," Cunningham said about Baddour whom he has known for 20 years. "Dickie has been a guiding light in intercollegiate athletics. (His) blood is in the bricks here. I look forward to looking with you for a long time."
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 search committee and Thorp have said all along that hiring an AD before the meeting was not essential, but it is helpful.
"I don't think the timing with regard to Indianapolis was a factor at all," Thorp said. "We wanted to have someone here before end of football season."
Cunningham said Friday that he does not plan on attending the Committee on Infractions meeting. Baddour has indicated that he would attend.
Cunningham has served as the athletic director at Tulsa since Oct. 7, 2005, following three years in the same position at Ball State University.
Numerous media outlets began reporting that a deal between Cunningham and UNC was close or in place as early as Wednesday and those reports became even more founded after Cunningham missed his monthly media luncheon, "Brunch with Bubba", in Tulsa on Thursday.
In December, Cunningham was the reported front-runner for the University of Kansas athletic director position but those talks ended when Tulsa gave him a five-year contract extension worth nearly $375,000. When asked about it at Friday's press conference, Cunningham said it was close, but staying at Tulsa came down to a family decision.
According to the USA Today, Baddour's contract pays him $325,000 base salary and can earn up to $147,500 in bonuses.
During Cunningham's time at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes earned league titles in football, women’s basketball, men’s tennis and softball. The women’s basketball and softball teams made their first NCAA appearances in 2006.
At UNC, Cunningham will receive a bonus for NCAA tournament appearances by either basketball team an bowl appearances by the football team.
Cunningham oversaw the $25 million planning and improvement of Skelly Stadium, developed relationships with national sponsors and focused on academic success, according to Tulsa Athletics.
While at Ball State, Cunningham became familiar with the NCAA compliance and investigation procedures. In 2005, 43 athletes in six sports were found to have improperly taken advantage of a book loan program the year before.
At the time, Cunningham was quoted of saying, "As soon as we became aware of irregularities with book loans for a few student-athletes for the 2004-05 academic year through regular business review, we chose to examine the records for all 186 student-athletes who received financial aid for books that year."
Similar to the UNC situation, Ball State coaches held 13 football players out of action until the NCAA cleared them to return. The NCAA put Ball State athletics on two years probation, gave additional sanctions to three programs and reduced scholarships in two programs, including football.
When asked about the UNC situation specifically, Cunningham said, "It’s a blemish but we will continue to work on the compliance area. You have to learn from those mistakes and do what you can to make sure they don’t happen again."
At both Ball State and Tulsa, Cunningham has been lauded for his student-athletes' academic success. According to Tulsa Athletics, his teams had an average Academic Performance Rate Index of 983 (out of 1,000) during his time at Ball State and continued at Tulsa by leading Conference USA in Scholar Athletes of the Year.
Cunningham's APR bonuses will kick-in at UNC if the average across all varsity sports is 975 or higher.
"To the student athletes, I can’t wait to meet every one of you. I will be your advocate to maximize your experience at UNC," Cunningham said. "The mission or purpose of intercollegiate athletics is to enhance the educational experience of all NC students."
Prior to his appointment at Ball State, Cunningham spent 15 years working in the athletics department at the University of Notre Dame.
Cunningham earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration, both from Notre Dame where he was also on the golf team.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said in July that Baddour will serve out the remainder of his contract, through June 2012, and he will join the university leaders at the hearing with the NCAA.
One of Cunningham's first tasks at UNC will be to find a permanent head football coach - something he has experience with as well.
At Tulsa, Cunningham hired Todd Graham who led the program to three 10-win seasons in a four-year span. Before that, he hired now Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to his first collegiate head job with Ball State.
Interim head coach Everett Withers is not out of the question to remain the man in charge after leading the Tar Heels to a 5-1 start, but Cunningham has said that he has conducted three coaching searches that were all different.
"I will certainly be watching from far away," Cunningham said. "We’re all about excellence and we will continue to find coaches that lead us to championships."