Coaching Search Taking Shape

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham will begin interviewing potential candidates for the permanent head coaching job following the Duke game on Saturday with the expectation of naming the new coach before UNC's bowl game.

Cunningham officially replaced Dick Baddour as the school's athletic director on Nov. 14. The former Tulsa A.D. sat down with Inside Carolina on Tuesday to discuss the football coaching search.

"We'll start to interview candidates after the end of the season," Cunningham said. "Everett is a candidate. We'll interview Everett with some others between the end of the season and probably the bowl game, and then name a coach at some point in that period, whether it's Everett or somebody else."

Cunningham has hired Bill Carr & Associates as a search consultant to aid in the process. Carr's group also served as the search firm for UNC's athletic director search committee appointed by Chancellor Holden Thorp.

After several weeks of research and conversations with Carr and as a staff, Cunningham indicated that UNC is now in the phase of finding out more information about potential candidates before ultimately conducting the interviews.

UNC posted its job opening for the head football coach position on Nov. 17 with an "open until filled" designation listed for the closing date.

Cunningham utilized search firms in both of the coaching hires made during his tenure at Tulsa, but he was solely responsible for hiring current Michigan head coach Brady Hoke at Ball State. He is actively involved in the process, saying, "I feel like I'm right in the middle of it."

During Cunningham's time at Tulsa, offensive wizards such as current Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham, current Auburn offensive coordinator Guz Malzhan and current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris worked on the Golden Hurricanes' staff, but that doesn't mean that UNC's new A.D. is set on an offensive guru as head coach.

Hoke has long been a defensive-oriented coach that adjusted his philosophy in his first year at Michigan to capitalize on quarterback Denard Robinson's talents.

"I think there are certain periods of time where different styles and people fit an institution and those happen to work," Cunningham said. "Here we've gone through two years of turmoil. We've calmed the waters this year, so we're trying to find somebody that's going to be the long-term best fit, whether it's Everett or somebody else, I don't think there's a certain style. At least, I'm not convinced there is yet."

Integrity and character are obvious traits that potential coaching candidates must possess, but Cunningham also understands the importance of a strong staff and the ability to recruit student-athletes that can excel on the field as well as in the classroom.

"It really comes down to people and what kind of relationships I think they can build in this community and in this part of the country that can make it successful," Cunningham said.

After his introductory press conference on Oct. 14, Cunningham returned for the Wake Forest football game on Oct. 29. The following day he received a tour of the football facilities from Withers, met the coaching staff and even sat in on a few team meetings. Cunningham has also watched several practices and offered strong praise for Withers's efforts this season.

"I think he's done a very nice job," Cunningham said. "We're bowl eligible and I really think holding the staff and the students together – it's really been two years of turmoil for them. I think they've competed really well and they play exceptionally hard."

Fair or not, Cunningham took the North Carolina job with a critical hire staring him in the face. Baddour helped build and sustain a dominant athletic program, but several poor head coaching decisions in football and basketball have drawn significant criticism.

In Cunningham's case, his coaching hire will give fans and observers a platform on which to judge him in his role before his family even has time to settle down in the new town. But he's quick to point out that he understood that dynamic before taking the job.

"Any organization is going to be successful based on the people," Cunningham said. "This job opportunity came about because of the issues that occurred, so I knew it going in. I knew, fair or unfair, that is was going to be a decision that I needed to make and I'm comfortable with that."

Cunningham built a reputation as being an innovator in marketing and fundraising during his time at Notre Dame, Ball State and Tulsa, but he didn't offer a magic potion to fixing the attendance issues that have been a constant topic of conversation at Kenan Stadium over the years.

"I think you can create single games or have some cause-marketing that can blip your attendance, but the only way to successfully grow attendance is to win and be successful," Cunningham said. "I jokingly say that the only people that have perfected losing are the [Chicago] Cubs and they continue to sell out, but everyone else, you have to win and field a competitive team to get people to come."

Cunningham has scheduled a department-wide staff meeting for Nov. 29 to get to know all of the coaches and staff members underneath his direction.

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