Bubba Cunningham has proved the right man for the job.
It seems like UNC’s athletic director has been in the news a lot lately, with raise after retirement bonus after new contract. Cunningham signed an extension last week that will keep him at Carolina through 2023, perhaps longer.
It is well-deserved as well-deserved can be. Cunningham, who knew little to nothing about the academic scandal brewing here when he accepted the job in 2011, has guided Tar Heel athletics through its most troubling and most satisfying period over the last six years.
The NCAA probe wound up well for the school, if not its lingering bad reputation that will take years to dissipate. Through it all, Cunningham has been able to shepherd his department through the present and into the future. He is the right man for the job at the right time, breaking UNC’s staid old tradition of promoting from within.
He brought a fresh approach, brought in new blood and implemented a tough, if measured, leadership style. Though few inside the administration want to crow about rebuilding into a so-called model program, UNC athletics may very well be the one to emulate in years to come.
That is because Cunningham has demanded the right balance between competitive success, academic compliance and accountability, from his own staff, to the coaches and the athletes themselves. He has grown popular, but it has taken him a few years to navigate the changes, which is hard at a school that could be arrogant about its own way, the once-bandied Carolina Way we don’t hear so much anymore.
Despite a cloud that hampered recruiting, most pronounced in football and basketball, Carolina has used its strong foundation to keep afloat and keep winning in most sports, from the revenue generators to the Olympic giants.
While Larry Fedora and Roy Williams won’t have to answer certain questions any more, while they did they still earned an ACC Coastal Division championship, two trips to the Final Four and one NCAA title that drove the ABC crowd, and perhaps the NCAA membership itself, nuts.
Cunningham need not apologize to anyone. He knew wrong, he fixed it and he fought to protect his university with just the right amount of transparency and temerity. All who love UNC owe him many thanks.