Athletic department releases 3-year plan

Throughout his career, legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith always had six words for his players.

“Play hard,” he would say. “Play smart. Play together.”

Now, decades later, Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham has six similar words for his department — six words that summarize its new strategic plan, which was released today.


Align operations to fulfill the mission of the University.

Academic achievement
A top 3 ACC finish and a top 10 finish nationally in each sport.

Athletic performance
A top 3 ACC finish and a top 10 finish nationally in each sport.

Administrative engagement
Pursue the resources and administrative structures key to success

“We want to work hard,” Cunningham said, “and play smart, and win together.”

The new plan — which was first drafted in September and spans to 2016 — aims to unify the University’s academics, athletics and administration to fulfill the missions of the University.

And it’s not without bold objectives. One such goal is to finish top-3 in the conference and top-10 nationally in both academics and athletics for every sport.

But Cunningham said not much is new in the document.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is articulate a lot of things we’ve done in the past and tell people what our ambition is for the future.”

One priority of the plan focuses on academic achievement, with objectives to support the academic goals of student athletes before, during and after their college careers.

“They’ve done a good job of aligning athletics with UNC and what we’d like to see happen here,” said Joy Renner, chairwoman of the faculty athletics committee, in a December interview.

“I think they have laid out a plan for really making sure that everyone understands that to be at UNC, you have to perform well on your field and in the classroom.

“You’ve gotta do both, which I think is important.”

The other three priorities focus on athletic performance, administrative engagement and alignment with the University.

In developing the plan, the athletic department worked with Paul Friga, an associate professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and a team of students to oversee the planning process and bring experience in strategic consulting.

One theory Friga said he introduced was the idea of BHAGs, or “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.”

“They’re things that stretch your organization but also keep it focused,” said Friga, who has a background in strategic consulting in private industry.

He listed the plan’s goal of winning championships in every sport as one such goal.

Cunningham said the purpose of such lofty goals was to motivate the department to make changes for the better.

“We’ve made some mistakes — we’re on probation because we’ve made some mistakes and we didn’t do things right ­— so we need to think about that,” he said.

“So we’re creating an ambition or a vision that we can be a little bit better than we are right now.”

Friga said he also used his strategic planning experience to guide decision making and ensure that there was one relevant and articulated mission in the plan.

“Now that this is in place, people have a heightened sense of understanding how they fit in and what they should be doing in terms of priorities,” he said.

“That’s going to generate higher morale, higher effectiveness.”

While the plan has now been released, it is still far from finished.

“It’s never done,” Cunningham said. “It’s a dynamic plan and we have ambitions and goals of what we want to achieve.”

“This is just the beginning of trying to hit those goals.”

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