UNC Finalizing AD Hire

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The University of North Carolina is in the final stages of hiring Lawrence "Bubba" Cunningham as its new athletic director, ending a nearly seven-week search to replace Dick Baddour.

A source with intimate knowledge of the search process informed Inside Carolina that Cunningham, the current Tulsa athletic director, arrived in North Carolina and met with school officials, including the search committee, on Wednesday.

Inside Carolina first reported Cunningham as a serious candidate for the open position on Sept. 23. Cunningham has not been available for comment.

Baddour announced on July 28 that he would be stepping down as UNC's athletic director after 14 years -- and would do so prior to the end of the contract year to allow a new athletic director to hire the University's next football coach. Former defensive coordinator Everett Withers was tabbed interim head coach one day after the July 27th dismissal of Butch Davis.

The 13-member search committee tasked with recommending a list of athletic director candidates to University of North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp met for the seventh time on Monday morning. Multiple sources confirmed that three candidates, with Cunningham tabbed as the top choice, were recommended to Thorp at that meeting.

The committee was formed by Thorp on Aug. 8, met for the first time on Aug. 26, and began the interview process in late September. Committee chairman Lowry Caudill told Inside Carolina on Monday that the committee had interviewed "quite a number of folks."

UNC hired Carr Sports Associates, Inc. to aid the committee in conducting a national search of candidates that had athletic director experience.

A Notre Dame graduate, Cunningham has been in his current position since 2005. He served as Ball State's athletic director for three years prior to taking the Tulsa job after working for 15 years in the Notre Dame athletic department, serving as associate director of athletics for external affairs from 2000-02 and associate athletics director for finance and facilities from 1995-2000.

Cunningham was pursued last December by Kansas for its vacant athletic director position and was widely-reported to be the KU search committee's top target. The Associated Press reported on Dec. 15 that the two sides were working out final contract details, but Cunningham ultimately agreed to a contract extension with Tulsa the following day.

During his time at Tulsa, Cunningham spearheaded fundraising for several new athletic facilities, as well as a renovation of the football stadium.

Cunningham's track record and innovative approach in marketing, fundraising and corporate sponsorships moved him to the forefront of the committee's search. He has experience in negotiating apparel contracts, radio and television deals and hiring and firing coaches, including a pair of solid football coach hires in Brady Hoke at Ball State and Todd Graham at Tulsa.

The Flint, Mich. product also has experience with athletic programs boasting a larger number of varsity sports. He created a marketing plan for all 26 squads during his time in South Bend, oversaw a 19-sport intercollegiate program at Ball State and most recently was in charge of 18 sports at Tulsa.

Cunningham shared the origination of his nickname, "Bubba," during his introductory press conference at Tulsa: "I have two older sisters, my first name is Lawrence or ‘Larry,' same name as my father and my sisters couldn't say brother. I was a short, fat little kid and it stuck. I have had that name ever since. By time I went to college, I thought this was an opportunity to go by my middle name. My middle name is Richard, so I would have been Richie Cunningham and I didn't think that was a good option. I decided to stay with ‘Bubba.'"

Cunningham earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration at Notre Dame ('84, '88). He played golf for the Irish in 1982-83. He and his wife, Tina, have four children: Matthew (20), Michael (18), John (16) and Sarah (14).

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