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Bubba Cunningham to lead UNC athletics


Bubba Cunningham is UNC’s new Athletic Director.

After nearly a seven-week search, North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp introduced UNC’s next athletic director, Bubba Cunningham, at a press conference Friday.

When Cunningham comes to UNC from the University of Tulsa on Nov. 14, he will inherit a program experiencing the tail end of an NCAA investigation, the job of hiring a head football coach and an athletic budget looking for a boost.

And though a potentially challenging transition period awaits the UNC athletic department, Thorp was proud of the brand new hire.

“The search committee’s charge was to find the best person in America for our job,” he said. “Bubba Cunningham is that person. He is the right person to lead Carolina athletics into the next chapter of its history.”

Neither born nor bred

UNC’s last two athletic directors — current ACC commissioner John Swofford and Dick Baddour — were UNC alumni, and quite familiar with the Tar Heel tradition before beginning their careers.

Cunningham, a 1984 Notre Dame graduate and former assistant athletic director for the Fighting Irish, has never attended school or been employed at North Carolina.

But search committee chairman Lowry Caudill said he doesn’t think his relative unfamiliarity with UNC will affect Cunningham’s qualification for the job.

“If you look around here, you’ll see highly successful people at Carolina that didn’t grow up here,” Caudill said. “We hired a basketball coach in 1961 that came from Kansas, (and he was) incredibly successful.

“Diversity is a good thing, because it brings different perspectives. And so I expect Bubba will have some good, fresh ideas to add to the great ideas we’ve already got here.”

A large task awaits

Although Cunningham’s job won’t begin until Nov. 14, the soon-to-be UNC employee said he’ll be paying attention to Tar Heel football from afar.

After all, he’ll soon be responsible for hiring the next head football coach at UNC.

Cunningham, who has made three head football coach hires during his 10-year career as a Division I athletic director, said the NCAA investigation into the North Carolina football program didn’t affect his decision to take the job.

And Cunningham said he’s eager to work to make sure infractions never happen again.

“I’ve read all the materials concerning the NCAA issues,” Cunningham said. “That is a blemish, but we will continue to work on the compliance area (and) ensure to the best of our ability that those things don’t happen in the future.”

What’s in a name?

Growing up in Naples, Fla., Cunningham was known as ‘Bubba’ to help keep him apart from his father Lawrence, with whom he shared a name.

In college, Cunningham said, he had the opportunity to go by his middle name instead. But not wanting to share a name with a famous Happy Days character, Cunningham decided to retain his old moniker.

“My middle name’s Richard, so I would have been Richie Cunningham,” he said. I said ‘Well that’s not going to do it either.’ So I took the lesser of my two evils and I stayed with Bubba.”

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