Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham
Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham
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Tar Heels Announce Strategic Plan
Release: 01/09/2013

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Chapel Hill - "We educate and inspire through athletics" - that is the mission statement for the University of North Carolina's department of athletics that is a result of a recently completed strategic planning process developed by Bubba Cunningham, who is in his second year as the Tar Heels' director of athletics.

"Our number one priority is for athletics to be part of the educational experience of all students at the University, those who compete in our 28 varsity sports as well as those who do not," says Cunningham. "Athletics provides academic and competitive opportunities for more than 700 students, and is part of a unifying spirit for thousands of other students, faculty, staff and alumni.

"Through competition and achievement, our programs can be a source of inspiration for the student body, the community, our alumni, donors and future generations of Tar Heels."

Early in his tenure as director of athletics, Cunningham appointed a group of executive staff members that began developing a strategic plan that will guide the athletic department's decision-making over the next four years.

Dr. Paul Friga, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Carolina's Kenan-Flagler School of Business, led UNC's strategic planning process. Friga teaches management consulting and strategy, researches strategic decision-making and consults on management and strategy for numerous companies across the country. He is the director of S.T.A.R. (Student Teams Achieving Results), domestic business practices and consulting concentrations.

"Paul did an outstanding job guiding us through the planning process," says Cunningham. "He helped us to think more strategically each day and worked exceptionally well with Matt Terrell from the Rams Club, who coordinated much of the planning process from organizing meetings, getting input, feedback and ideas from various constituents in and out of the athletic department, and crafting the plan which will serve as a blueprint for us over the next several years."

"Strategy is critical to an organization's success," says Friga. "Strategic planning sets the stage for moving an organization forward to a new, positive direction. A strategy speaks to the employees, and also speaks to the external constituents about whom we are and where we're going. The goal is to have the decision-making of everyone in the organization to be particularly aligned with the mission, values, vision and priorities of that organization. That's when you know strategy is effective."

The planning team identified four core values for Carolina Athletics- Responsibility, Innovation, Service and Excellence.

"Our values are at the heart of what we do every day, whether you are a coach, a student-athlete or an administrator who supports our programs," says Cunningham. "Number one, we must do what is right. If we make good choices and smart decisions based on what is the right thing to do, then we will be successful on and off the field. We must be creative and encourage people to find a better way, whether that is devising a better strategy to win an event, seeking new financial solutions to budget for 28 sports or identifying the students who have the best chance to succeed academically and athletically at an outstanding university.

"Service to the state of North Carolina and to our various constituents is an important part of our mission. We are fortunate to give young men and women the opportunity to attend a world-class university and compete in athletics, and we have an obligation as a department to put others first and use athletics to help people reach their goals and dreams.

"And we believe in excellence in all that we do. We are part of one of the top public universities in the country, the Tar Heel athletic program has succeeded at the highest levels and we want to challenge ourselves to win with integrity in all areas. It's a take off from what Coach Dean Smith taught for many years - our goals are to work hard, play smart and win together."

College athletics has seen many changes in recent years and Cunningham wants Carolina positioned to have a voice in the on-going conversation about the future, whether it is in the state university system, the Atlantic Coast Conference or at the NCAA level.

"Our vision is that we will lead in all that we do - academics, athletics and administration," says Cunningham. "It is critical that with all that is being discussed about the role of athletics at all levels of higher education, the University of North Carolina be at the forefront of those conversations. The only way to do that is to have a program that people can look to with pride in how we are recruiting and educating our student-athletes, how we are faring competitively at the ACC and national level and how we are growing and developing our professional staff."

To support the department's mission, values and vision, the strategic planning team established four priorities. Those include alignment with the university's mission of educating students; finishing in the top three in the ACC and top 10 in the nation academically in each sport; finishing in the top three in the ACC and top 10 on the nation athletically in each sport; and engaging administratively with internal and external constituents to pursue the resources and structures to achieve those benchmarks of success.

"It's important that every day that our team comes to work, every decision we make, whether it's the executive staff, senior staff, coaches, unit managers and all levels of staff, they understand and live by our values, understand the vision to be leaders and abide by our four priorities. We must structure our program so that what we do complements and helps to fulfill the true mission of the University of North Carolina; we will strive to succeed at the highest levels in the classroom and competitively; and our administrative staff will be accountable for supporting the goals and aspirations of our 28 sports and 700-plus students."

"Success and winning is a by-product of your whole entire program and that comes from recruiting the right student-athlete, having the right resources here, having the right leadership, the right training and the right focus," says Jenny Levy, head coach of the women's lacrosse team that has played in six final fours. "With that focus, the by-product will be winning.

"It's a constant climb to being the best that you can be, on the field, in the classroom and in the community," says Levy. "If you are sitting still then you are going to be passed. What we see as an overall athletic department goal is that we need to find a better way so we are constantly on an ascension to do something better."

Academic success may be measured by a number of indicators, including the NCAA's Academic Progress Rates, graduation rates, ACC Honor Roll, Dean's List, etc....

Athletic success may also be measured by a number of factors, including the NACDA Directors Cup, which UNC has finished in the Top 10 in 16 of the last 19 seasons, NCAA postseason appearances, national rankings, and NCAA and ACC finishes in regular-season and post-season play.

"What I like about this strategic plan is it's not just about me and the kids I am recruiting and training, it's about the entire athletic department on a mission to be the best at everything," says women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who has led the Tar Heels to 22 national championships, including the 2012 NCAA title. "To be the best not only on the fields but in the classrooms - to be the best in all of our functions beyond our coaching responsibilities. To lead in every conceivable way. I like the collective, communal ambition to be the best in everything we do."

Supporting the overall strategic plan are 14 objectives that the planning team identified as ways to implement the four priorities. Each of the objectives has action steps that serve as a daily roadmap to achieving the department's goals over the next four years.

The objectives that support each individual priority are as follows:


  • Define and respect the importance of athletics within public research universities
  • Build stronger relationships within the university community
  • Actively shape the future of college athletics


  • Improve the academic profile of incoming student-athletes
  • Support student-athletes' academic goals, performance and efforts to graduate
  • Develop student-athletes for a life of success beyond athletics


  • Attract, develop and retain the best coaches
  • Attract, develop and retain the best student-athletes to achieve their maximum potential
  • Win championships


  • Create a culture that emphasizes strategic thinking effective organizational structure and outstanding communications
  • Attract, develop and retain the best staff
  • Identify, secure and allocate the resources needed to achieve at the highest level
  • Develop an operational approach that emphasizes connections with fans, donors and partners throughout outreach and collaboration
  • Tell the "Carolina Story" through innovative communications, aggressive promotions and proactive public relations

"The objectives give us a starting point where we can really make an impact on the University community on a daily basis," says Cunningham. "These are the basic building blocks for continuing the many years of success that Carolina has been known for an respected throughout college athletics. Each of these objectives has ideas and action items that will change on a regular basis as we adapt to the world around us. But they give us a chance to be big and bold and chart a course for the future that is both exciting and rewarding.

"We truly are in an unprecedented time of change in college athletics and the whole point of this strategic plan is to position the University of North Carolina to move forward in ways that make productive citizens of our student-athletes, to create stimulating and challenging work environments for our coaches and staff, to enhance the educational experience of every student on this campus and to make all of our alumni, donors and fans proud to call themselves Tar Heels."


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