Corey DeMoss, NewsOn6.com
TULSA, Oklahoma – Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who is leaving the program to take the same position at North Carolina, talked Monday about his time at TU and his plans moving forward.
"I really think it's just about the opportunity to go to North Carolina," Cunningham said. "We talk about the educational mission, and I really think that North Carolina has been able to have a great balance between athletic achievement and institutional mission academically."
Cunningham has been Tulsa's athletic director since 2005, and the school has won a total of 34 Conference-USA titles since he began his tenure.
"Leaving Tulsa is a very, very difficult to do," he said. "I've absolutely loved it here. The friendships I've made, that Tina has made, the kids have made, the experience they've had at school has been spectacular. So it's very difficult, but the allure of the ACC and North Carolina outweighed staying here."
Both North Carolina and the ACC conference are known for their dominance in basketball, especially now that the conference has added two more powerhouses in Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The UNC football program also made strides in the past few years, but lately has been stricken by significant controversy.
An investigation into the football program revealed one of the longest and widest-ranging scandals in recent college football history. Charges included academic fraud, unethical dealings with NFL agents and impermissible benefits throughout a two-year period.
Based on the investigation's findings, North Carolina imposed several penalties upon itself. A total of 14 players were suspended, three were found permanently ineligible, wins were vacated from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, scholarships were reduced by three over the next three seasons, and the team will be on probation for two years.
North Carolina fired head coach Butch Davis in July, and previous athletic director Dick Baddour elected to retire after serving at the school for 15 years. With all of the controversy swirling around the school, Cunningham became UNC's first athletic director in 36 years without any direct ties to the school.
Cunningham will have plenty of work ahead of him to clean up both the football program and its image. He will need to immediately begin evaluating possible permanent replacements for Davis, which includes current interim head coach Everett Withers.
"A decision needs to be made by the end of the season to name a permanent coach," Cunningham said. "Coach Everett Withers is a very good guy; I met him both on Friday and on Sunday, so he certainly is a candidate for the job. They need to fill that spot on a permanent basis to kind of bring some stability and some trust back to the program. And that's my No. 1 priority."
Despite the difficult situation he will be entering, Cunningham stressed that he is very excited for his new opportunity. North Carolina will be the third school for which he has been an athletic director, joining Ball State and Tulsa. He began his career as an assistant at Notre Dame.
"I do have experience at three different schools," Cunningham said. "I think I have a lot of relationships, I think I really understand where intercollegiate athletics fits in on a college campus, and that balance between academics and athletics.
He added that he thinks the job opening he is leaving behind will become hotly contested, and that Tulsa is more widely recognized than it was when he arrived.
"This is an absolutely great job," Cunningham said. "The leadership, the school, the city, everything about it is terrific. It's going to be highly, highly sought after, because I think the success that a lot of the teams have had recently have given the place a lot more visibility. People will be very interested in this job."
Cunningham also gave a vote of confidence to Ross Parmley, who has served TU as Deputy Director of Athletics and will take over Cunningham's position on an interim basis.
"I think Ross will do an outstanding job over the next few months, and he may have a chance to get it permanently as well," Cunningham said. "He's an outstanding administrator and I wish him all the best. He'll guide this place exceptionally well over the next six months, and then after that I don't know what's going to happen."
Cunningham will begin his new position at North Carolina on Nov. 14. He said he will try to make Parmley's transition to the position as smooth as possible before he leaves the state permanently.