Dick Baddour sat alone in a room on the morning of July 28, preparing for a task he wasn’t sure he was quite ready for.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he thought to himself.
But his love for North Carolina wouldn’t allow him to do anything else.
As athletic director, Baddour had promised himself he’d always put his beloved institution first.
And no matter the situation, he was determined to uphold that pledge — even if it meant ending a 45-year career.
Just two days earlier, the tumultuous, year-long investigation into the UNC football program took a turn when head coach Butch Davis was fired just six weeks before the Tar Heels’ first game of the season.
With his own retirement looming, Baddour felt that the next athletic director was the best person to undertake the task of finding UNC’s next football coach.
So that morning, in front of a standing-room only crowd at UNC’s Friday Center, Baddour announced his resignation.
“I was okay after I had done that, and then when I got the question about, ‘Can you tell me how you feel?’ I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t tell,” Baddour said. “I would have cried. I would have been sobbing.”
When Bubba Cunningham takes over Monday, Baddour will pass down an athletic department facing potential NCAA sanctions and possible elimination of varsity sports due to a budget crisis.
But even as he cleans out his office to make way for his successor, Baddour does it with his head held high.
“Everything’s just kind of packed up, but it’s okay,” he said. “This department is in terrific shape.”
Jack of all trades
Baddour will teach classes and conduct leadership seminars at UNC before his contract expires in June 2012.
For Baddour, working in a variety of roles within the UNC community is nothing new.
In 1967, just one year after graduating from UNC, Baddour took a job as UNC’s assistant dean of men — a position in which he oversaw the Greek community and helped organize orientation.
During the next two decades, Baddour served in different administrative roles at the University, including assistant director of undergraduate admissions and assistant dean of students at the UNC law school.
A career in athletics, Baddour said, wasn’t even on his radar.
But when athletic director John Swofford’s assistant left UNC in 1986, Swofford knew just who he wanted to fill the void.
“It fell (in my lap),” Baddour said. “I suspect had I been offered a position in athletics somewhere else … I probably wouldn’t have done that. It was only because it was here.”
It might not have been in Baddour’s career plan, but doors in athletics continued to open.
Swofford was offered the position as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1997, and Baddour immediately had his eye on the promotion.
To athletic director search committee member Beth Miller, Baddour’s knowledge and passion for UNC was second to none.
“After going through the interview process with the other candidates, he just absolutely rose to the top and was unconditionally the best choice.”
Managing an athletic department composed of 28 varsity sports presents an array of challenges for an athletic director.
And for Baddour — a man who prides himself on building relationships with his colleagues — making coaching changes is without question the hardest one.
Baddour admitted to being slow to let coaches go during his 14-year tenure as athletic director. And although he’s made coaching hires that have resulted in less-than-successful squads, he said he hasn’t regretted a single one.
“There was a time there with John Bunting and Matt Doherty that the success equation wasn’t real high, so the heat was particularly hard then,” he said. “I hate the outcomes, but I don’t second guess decisions.”
Bunting, who finished with a 27-45 record as head football coach at UNC, and Doherty, who led the 2001-02 Tar Heel basketball team to its worst season in program history, could be considered blemishes on Baddour’s hiring record.
But it’s also not without its fair share of highlights.
In 1998, Baddour brought on coach Mike Fox, who led the UNC baseball team to five College World Series appearances in six seasons. In 2009 he hired men’s lacrosse coach Joe Breschi, who pulled in the No. 1 recruiting class in 2010.
In 2000, when Bill Guthridge retired as the head basketball coach, Baddour almost added former UNC assistant coach Roy Williams to that list of successes.
Media attention surrounded UNC’s pursuit of Williams and rumors swirled that he was coming back to North Carolina, but in the end Williams announced he was keeping his head coaching job at the University of Kansas.
Three years later when faced with yet another basketball coaching hire, Baddour was determined not to let the top prize slip through his fingers again.
“I got criticized because it was like, ‘He didn’t come the last time. What are you doing?’” Baddour said. “Once I was able to convey to him that he was our answer, we needed him here, he was the home run, he says ‘Okay. I need some time to sort this out.’”
Ultimately, it was Baddour’s patience that brought the now two-time national championship coach back to Chapel Hill.
“If he had not handled me coming back in 2003 the way he did, I would not have come back,” Williams said. “His trust in me, just to give me a little space, and give me a little time was something that I needed.”
The UNC family
During the 14 years Baddour has been athletic director, Tar Heel teams have won 13 national championships and 65 ACC titles.
But Baddour said he doesn’t define success by victories alone.
In a field that can be easily dominated by Xs and Os, it’s the relationships with his colleagues on which Baddour’s priorities lie.
When Breschi sat down with Baddour in 2009 to interview for the job of head men’s lacrosse coach, that sentiment was immediately evident.
“Sometimes it can be run as a business, but this was certainly a family,” Breschi said. “He was running a family, and that made it even more special to come back and work for him.”
In the heat of competition, Baddour’s support for his colleagues has been a constant. But away from athletics, UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance said it’s just as strong.
In 2005, Dorrance was nominated for an ESPY and attended the awards show in Las Vegas.
Baddour made the 2,300-mile trip from Chapel Hill to cheer on his colleague.
“I was thinking to myself, there’s no way I’m going to win this thing. There was no reason for him to come,” Dorrance said. “But to have him there with me meant a lot.”
A never-ending struggle
To help keep things in perspective, Baddour said he began writing down his challenges on a legal pad about eight years ago.
In June 2010, when the UNC’s compliance officer informed him that NCAA investigators were coming to campus, Baddour met the biggest challenge of all.
“I cannot adequately describe how difficult that was. Anything that I would say would understate it,” Baddour said. “It’s the most powerful, gut wrenching, hardest … oppressive situation I’ve dealt with. And it was repetitive. It was like it wouldn’t go away.
“Just when you think, ‘Okay we’ll handle this one and then we’ll take a deep breath.’ And you didn’t get to the deep breath.”
For more than a year, Baddour and administrators dealt with allegations of a rogue former associate head football coach, academic misconduct and the acceptance of thousands of dollars worth of improper benefits by football players.
On the surface, Baddour was an athletic director taking responsibility for UNC’s mistakes. To his colleagues, he was a friend in pain.
“You could see times were tough,” swimming coach Rich DeSelm said. “But he always said, ‘We’re going to get through this. And we’re going to be better for it.’”
For Baddour, hindsight is 20/20. Knowing then what he knows now, Baddour said, his antenna would have been up in certain areas within the football program. But he doesn’t wrestle with the ‘what ifs.’
Self-imposed sanctions might not be the ideal parting gift, but those aren’t the memories of the NCAA investigation that Baddour will take with him when he goes.
“I don’t regret one thing with how we did that. Not one thing,” Baddour said. “I really believe we did that the right way… We’re going to take some hits, but I feel good as I walk out that door.”
A leader’s legacy
Although Baddour will no longer be employed by UNC once he retires in June 2012, his presence will remain throughout campus.
To Dorrance and other coaches who have had student-athletes go through Baddour’s Carolina Leadership Academy, it will be seen in the direction of a strong leader on the field.
“When I lose a game, it’s a visceral feeling. I don’t just feel I’ve let down my team and my athletic department, I have this feeling I’ve let down my university,” Dorrance said. “The thing I really admire about Dickie is he has this same love for the University … and the love is incredibly deep.”
It’s that kind of love that Baddour has tried to instill in everyone he’s encountered during his 45-year career at North Carolina, but especially in the students at UNC.
“As an athletic director, I’ve got a little piece of … your experience, so I want that to be good,” he said. “I want you to love the University of North Carolina when you’re 75 years old.”
A job in athletics might have fallen into his lap 14 years ago. But it is that love for UNC that’s been Baddour’s driving force all along.
Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
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