Bubba Cunningham has overseen nine national titles and 10 runner-up finishes over the past six years as athletic director. With his new contract announced by Chancellor Carol Folt on Nov. 17, he has six more years at UNC to add to the trophy case.
But it hasn’t been an easy six years. After Dick Baddour stepped down as athletic director in 2011, Bubba Cunningham inherited an academic scandal that would challenge Carolina Athletics for the next six years. Despite a negative shadow cast from the investigation, Carolina Athletics has come out into the clear following the NCAA ruling on Oct. 13 thanks to the guidance of Cunningham.
When he first arrived at UNC in 2011, Cunningham reached out to Paul Friga, a clinical associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, to conduct a comprehensive strategic plan for Carolina Athletics. Before they could create a plan to move forward, Friga and Cunningham had to evaluate the current condition of the program.
“Our strategic planning process involved a comprehensive assessment of the landscape of an external and internal view,” Friga said. “Externally we looked at factors that were affecting athletics at that point and then internally we looked at our strengths and weaknesses as an organization. We conducted extensive surveys of student-athletes, of faculty, of administration, of alumni. We created a task force and spent a six month period doing analysis.”
During the visioning portion of this process, the task force decided to make responsibility, innovation, service and excellence the core values of Carolina Athletics, which would shape Cunningham’s career as athletic director.
Friga is currently working with Cunningham to release an updated strategic plan. Moving forward, Cunningham said he is aiming to grow Carolina Athletics further following the NCAA investigation.
“Now, I think the biggest challenge is to earn back the trust of the University community and nationally,” Cunningham said. “I think the things that occurred were damaging to our reputation and we need to earn that reputation back.”
Cunningham came to UNC as an experienced leader.
He served as the athletic director at Ball State University from 2002 to 2005, and the University of Tulsa from 2005 to 2011. From 1988 to 2002, Cunningham worked his way through the ranks of the athletic department at the University of Notre Dame. Cunningham has leveraged his experience at these schools to inspire initiatives for Carolina Athletics, as was the case for creating the Rammys -- an award show for Carolina Athletics celebrating student-athletes in a style mimicking the Grammy Awards.