When Matt Kupec played football for Carolina, he was one of the smartest quarterbacks ever to wear the Tar Heel uniform.
In the final minute of the last regular-season game in his true freshman year, he perfectly executed the option pitch to Mike Voight for a two-point conversion that defeated Duke 39-38 in a Kenan Stadium classic. In his last game at Carolina, he completed 18 of 28 passes to engineer a comeback win over Michigan in the 1979 Gator Bowl, earning co-MVP honors with Famous Amos Lawrence.
Since returning to UNC in 1992 as a fundraiser, Kupec rose to reorganize the complicated development machine and administered capital campaigns that brought in more than $4 billion. Especially after moving his office to South Building to assist James Moeser, he increased his role as right hand man to four Chancellors and was in on virtually every major decision the university made.
So with a $359,000 salary, plus plenty of perks as part of the job, how could he have done something so universally stupid?
It became fairly common knowledge in 2009 that Kupec had separated from his wife and was dating Tami Hansbrough, the mother of Carolina’s most decorated basketball player. Tyler Hansbrough was in the middle of a senior season in which he would break several major career records at UNC while leading the Tar Heels to the national championship in Detroit.
At the time, Tami Hansbrough was employed as a fundraiser for the Dental Foundation of North Carolina, and according to current Executive Director of the DFNC Paul Gardner, Hansbrough raised nearly $5 million in two and a half years.
She had applied for the job along with 40 other people and in November of 2008 was named Associate Director of Development after interviewing with a five-person search committee. Obviously her name and being the mother of Carolina’s most famous basketball player did not hurt.
There were people in and around the UNC Dental School who resented Hansbrough for, one, getting the job with no fundraising experience and not spending a lot of time in the office while she was out visiting with donors and prospective donors. In an internal audit followed by a report from a Greensboro accounting firm, Hansbrough was asked to clarify expenses for trips to Atlanta for the 2009 ACC Tournament and to Memphis for the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional. She documented the travel during which she visited with donors and prospective donors while also cheering on her son and the Tar Heels.
In May of 2009, the Dental Foundation found fault with the travel expenses submitted by then Executive Director Brad Bodager, who resigned on May 29 for reasons unrelated to the expenses charged by Hansbrough. Gardner returned as executive director of the Dental Foundation in December of 2009.
Dental School Dean John Williams reviewed Hansbrough’s expense accounts and shared them with then-athletic director Dick Baddour. “During the 13 months I was her supervisor, we did not have any questions about her documented travel,” Gardner said Thursday.
Nevertheless, sources who know Hansbrough say she was worried about keeping her $82,000 job, considering the controversy at the foundation and some ill will among fellow employees who resented the travel schedule kept by the former Miss Missouri. Hansbrough made an appointment to see Kupec, who managed all development at the university. They became friends and, eventually, began a romantic relationship.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said this week that Kupec informed him of his relationship with Hansbrough in the fall of 2009 after Kupec had separated from his wife. Thorp also said he would not let Kupec hire Hansbrough for a fundraising job under Kupec’s supervision because it violated the nepotism policy at UNC.
Nepotism goes on at all universities, whether couples get together after the fact or, as is often the case, spouses or partners of sought-after employees are hired as a package deal. The policy, at least at UNC, is that they cannot work directly for, or with, one another. That is why Thorp turned down Kupec’s request.
In May of 2010, Hansbrough and Kupec started taking documented trips together that are currently under review by the university’s internal audit. In January of 2011, Hansbrough resigned from the Dental Foundation to raise money for the office of Student Affairs under Dean Winston Crisp, a position that was partially funded by Kupec. She was one of four people interviewed and obviously her success with the Dental Foundation helped her land the job.
When exactly all this turned tabloid is unclear. Apparently, some questions about Kupec’s own expenses came up during his 5-year review. He traveled with Hansbrough on business and they traveled as a couple. Kupec’s resignation this week indicates some of his dalliances were apparently on the public’s dime. With a combined annual salary of more than $450,000, the high-profile pair made it a scandal by not paying for all of their personal travel out of their own pockets.
Not smart for one of UNC’s smartest former athletes and administrators and one of Carolina’s most famous mothers. Their escapades have put Caroina back in the national news.
Though unrelated, the latest episode followed more than two years of an NCAA probe and penalties tied to UNC’s football program under fired coach Butch Davis and an ongoing investigation into academic fraud in the department of African and Afro-American Studies that may have started before Davis arrived on campus.
Kupec and Hansbrough, who resigned from her job this week, will soon become additional footnotes in the most scandalous period UNC has known and one in which the bad news does not seem close to an end.