CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina has hired Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham as the school’s next AD.
University trustees approved the hiring in a meeting Friday morning. Cunningham’s start date is Nov. 14 and his contract runs through June 2017. He will make $525,000 annually and will receive a $40,000 annual expense allowance.
He can receive bonuses for average team academic performance, as well as when the football team reaches a bowl or the men’s and women’s basketball teams reach the NCAA tournament.
“I’m not smart enough to have enough adjectives about the emotions I feel right now,” Cunningham said during the news conference to announce his hiring. “It’s a special, special place, and it’s such an honor to be a part of it.”
Cunningham, 49, will replace Dick Baddour, who is stepping down after 14 years amid the ongoing NCAA investigation into the football program. Chancellor Holden Thorp, who attended the trustees meeting, had said Baddour would remain on at least through the school’s appearance before the NCAA infractions committee on Oct. 28. Cunningham will start at North Carolina on Nov. 14.
Cunningham was atop a short list of candidates forwarded to Thorp by a 13-member search committee headed by trustee Lowry Caudill, who said there were about 60 applicants, 13 of whom were interviewed.
“The search committee’s charge was to find the best person in America for our job,” Thorp said. “Bubba Cunningham is that person.”
Cunningham will inherit a 28-sports department that stands as one of the flagship programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’ll have the immediate job in hiring a new football coach after the abrupt firing of Butch Davis just before training camp in July, including the decision of whether interim coach Everett Withers—who has the Tar Heels off to a 5-1 start—should be the permanent choice.
Withers, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell were among the Tar Heels’ coaches in attendance for Cunningham’s introductory news conference. Cunningham said he met with Withers and the other Tar Heels’ coaches shortly before the news conference.
“Obviously, we need a full-time (football) coach at some point, and through our conversations with the chancellor, we’re all about excellence,” Cunningham said. “My charge in the next few months will be to analyze the program, make a decision where we are and then what’s the best fit going forward? … Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that any kind of coaching discussion is not a distraction” to the team.
Since Cunningham’s arrival at Tulsa in 2005, the Golden Hurricane have won 34 Conference USA championships. In addition, Tulsa made a $25 million renovation to the football stadium and spent almost $10 million in construction of the Case Athletic Complex.
“Bubba Cunningham is an outstanding choice. He is a quality administrator and terrific person,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who was North Carolina’s AD from 1980-97. “Bubba is a highly respected and proven athletics director who will fit in extremely well at UNC and will be a welcome addition around our ACC table.”
Cunningham is a Notre Dame graduate with a master’s degree in business administration. He spent 15 years working in various roles at his alma mater before serving three years as athletic director at Ball State and then six years at Tulsa.