UNC makes good choice in athletic director hire

Possibly no other athletics department in the nation can match North Carolina in homegrown talent.

The 15-year athletic director hails from Goldsboro, both the men’s basketball and baseball coaches were born in the mountains, the women’s basketball coach has a drawl you can only find in Gastonia and the interim head football coach went to high school in Charlotte.

So while the new UNC athletic director is not from the Old North State, he at least has to have a name that sounds like he is.
Bubba Cunningham is no more North Carolinian than clam chowder, but his hiring may be the best athletics move in the Holden Thorp era. What’s more, he’ll be able to ease into his job, for all intents and purposes, when he takes over Nov. 14.

Some may get hung up on the fact that Cunningham has been at Ball State and Tulsa during the past decade. But would you rather have an athletic director from a big-time school that kept the status quo, or an up-and-comer who took two different athletic departments to all-new heights?

Cunningham’s biggest challenge will be figuring out whether to keep Everett Withers or to find a permanent head football coach, and that’s a big enough task for a guy who’s yet to even pack up his office in Tulsa.

But luckily for him, Dick Baddour has taken care of some heavy lifting. On Thursday, Baddour had Roy Williams, Sylvia Hatchell and Mike Fox sign contract extensions through 2018.

The signatures of a Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach, a national title-winning women’s basketball coach and a five-time College World Series baseball coach, ensured that Cunningham wouldn’t have to make a second tough hire in his first few months on the job.

Fourteen years ago, Baddour, the brand-new athletic direc- tor, had to replace a legend in Dean Smith and a football coach in Mack Brown who had finally brought UNC to national rel- evance.

Baddour, not Cunningham, will be the one speaking at the NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing on Oct. 28 — at which point resolution of the year-long investigation will be in sight for UNC.

Maybe that’s a reason why Cunningham didn’t have a bead of sweat on his forehead dur- ing or after his introductory press conference. Or why he was able to answer all the questions lobbed at him without stammer- ing or stalling.

The blue tie he wore at the press conference was already in his wardrobe, but he told me that he’d have to go shopping for more Carolina blue sooner rather than later.

On Friday night, he showed up wearing a blue-and-white striped tie to Late Night with Roy.

His wife and four children were decked out in Carolina blue Nole Dri-Fit collared shirts that looked fresh out of Student Stores.

If Bubba Cunningham can execute his job duties as quickly and as well as he did his assur- ance to get more Carolina blue attire, then UNC has made a great choice.

Contact Jonathan Jones at jjones9@live.unc.edu.

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