Q&A with Bubba Cunningham, Part II

North Carolina director of athletics Bubba Cunningham discussed Larry Fedora, Roy Williams and the status of potential Smith Center renovations in a recent sit down with InsideCarolina.com.

You signed Larry Fedora to a seven-year deal in December 2011 with NCAA penalties on the horizon. The football team finished the regular season 6-6 for the second year in a row. Given the off-the-field challenges that Fedora inherited, how do you assess the program at this point in time?
“I think the coaches and students have done a really good job. I’m very pleased with where we are. Obviously you’d like to win every game you play, but given the environment that he walked into, he’s handled it very well. I think he’s held the team together very well. I think he’s done a very good job recruiting. I think the accountability for on-field and off-field performance is very strong, so I’m pleased with that. So overall I think he’s done a really good job.”

Note: This interview was conducted prior to UNC's Quick Lane Bowl appearance.

You’ve had success at previous stops in making good hires. After a coach has been on the job for several years, is there anything in particular you are looking for, outside of wins and losses, to gauge the effectiveness of the coach and if the program is headed in the right direction?
“I think when you go out and look for a coach, the No. 1 thing I’ve always talked about is fit. Now you expect competency, and so you want to get cultural fit with the institution, with the players, with everything associated. And I think he has demonstrated that… There have been more hurdles than he anticipated, but he’s never looked back and said, ‘This is unfair, it wasn’t what I expected.’ So that is part of the reason I think I have such high regard for how he’s handled everything so far. I think he’s building an accountability and I think that’s working out very well. I think there’s a sense on the campus that he means what he says. When he first got here, the very first academic meeting he went to, he said all of the things the faculty expected him to say. And at the end of it, he said, ‘I can say all of this and you’re not going to believe me until I do the things I just said.’ And I think he’s doing those. So I’ve been very pleased with that kind of approach to where we are.”

I want to circle back and ask about Roy Williams. Shortly after the Wainstein Report came out, you made an appearance on his radio show to offer your support. It sounded like a spontaneous move on your part. Why did you feel the need to come out and express your support of Roy at that time?
“Yes, it was spontaneous. Again, when you talk about the facts, and people can have different opinions about a set of facts, but I still feel that way, obviously, about Roy’s personal integrity. None of us are perfect. Roy’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, none of us are, but I think he has tried to do things the right way his entire career, his entire life. And in 26 or 27 years of being a head coach, no one’s questioned his integrity. So when the Wainstein Report came out and Kenneth Wainstein interviewed people, he was asked that question at the press conference. Everything that would lead somebody to know and therefore exploit an opportunity, he didn’t do. So his history should count for something and I feel like people have really discounted that. That bothers me. It still does. And I just thought that time was the right time to say I believe in the guy. I think that anybody that has worked with him believes in him and I think that people that know him believe in him. It’s people that don’t know him that well that say, ‘Well, he should have known.’ Well, should have known and known is a big difference. So I just felt like it got too personal and it started to attack his integrity and that’s when you draw the line and say, ‘That’s not fair.’”

You had mentioned back in the summer that the Smith Center renovations were on the back burner due to not knowing how the O’Bannon ruling and Power 5 autonomy would play out. Has anything changed on that front? Do you have a better understanding of how all of that is going to play out?
“No, I don’t. The litigation, governance, autonomy, all of those things, and quite frankly, the campus turmoil. I do think that we need to enhance the Smith Center. I think we need to enhance the soccer field. I think we need to upgrade a number of our facilities, but I don’t think the timing is right. So it’s still there, it’s still on the back burner. And as soon as we feel like, as a University, that we’ve healed ourselves and we feel comfortable, then I think we’ll move forward. I may have said it before, from a person 1,000 miles away, who has been in collegiate athletics a long time, in 1986 [UNC] built a 21,000-seat arena on campus. No one has done that since and no one was really doing it then. In 1997, I came and looked at the football building when Mack [Brown] was here. I was in South Bend and three of us came down, and we said, ‘Oh my God, a basketball school is doing this? We’ll never win a game in football.’ But that’s when you have confidence and that’s when you have courage. And right now, we don’t. We’ve lost our own confidence; we’ve lost trust by our alumni, within the community, outside of the community. We have to build that back. Until we do that, we can’t embark upon something that would be that visible in our major sports. We have to get comfortable with who we are again and prove to people you can do both.”

What’s the key to doing that?
“Some of it is time. And as Larry indicated when we hired him, I can say all of the right things, but we’ve got to do it. So we need to show that we’re going to admit students that can be successful. We need to provide them a great education while they’re here. They need to graduate. They need to get good jobs and go on and do things. I think we have a number of those that are already doing that, but when you have a breach of trust, it takes time to build it back. So as I said, I think we’ve polarized, but I think we’re starting to come back together. How long does it take to come back together and really rebuild that trust? I’m not sure, but I’m confident we can do it and I think we will. I hope it’s sooner rather than later because each year that we don’t do it, we get a year behind what everyone else is doing because for three years, we really haven’t done anything in a positive way to impact the life of a student-athlete and we need to do that. And I understand why, but at some point, we can’t sit in neutral. We’ve got to move forward.”

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