Lawrence R. (Bubba) Cunningham is in his fourth year as the director of athletics at the University of North Carolina. Cunningham officially began his duties at UNC on November 14, 2011.
Cunningham is the seventh director of athletics in Carolina history, following Robert A. Fetzer (1923-52), Chuck Erickson (1953-67), Homer Rice (1969-75), Bill Cobey (1976-80), John Swofford (1980-97) and Dick Baddour (1998-2012).
One of Cunningham's first accomplishments at UNC was the development of a strategic plan for Carolina athletics. A planning committee worked with Dr. Paul Friga, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Carolina's Kenan-Flagler School of Business throughout the process and created the mission statement - "We Educate and Inspire Through Athletics." The plan also identified four core values for Carolina Athletics- Responsibility, Innovation, Service and Excellence.
"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."
College athletics has seen many changes in recent years and Cunningham, who is the 3rd Vice President of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), has 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.
In Cunningham's first year at UNC, Carolina began working with the Disney Institute to identify new best practices to implement at UNC. Members of the Disney Institute worked with the athletic department to learn more about Carolina athletics and provide recommendations. Additionally, several cross unit work teams were organized within the department to provide an assessment of the organization and provide feedback to Disney. Carolina will work with Disney to adapt new best practices throughout the 2014-15 academic year.
Working in conjunction with University officials, Cunningham also continues to lead the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group. That group, which was launched with provost James W. Dean in fall 2013, is taking a comprehensive approach to assessing and enhancing how the University provides academic support to student-athletes. The group will develop a rigorous and transparent set of processes and metrics as part of an ongoing initiative. The objective is to ensure proper alignment with the University's academic mission, a goal that is consistent with Cunningham's strategic plan for the Department of Athletics.
Cunningham commissioned a compliance review by an outside firm after arriving in Chapel Hill and he is currently finalizing a master plan for UNC's facilities.
On the field, Carolina has achieved outstanding success under Cunningham's leadership. Carolina finished 14th in the Learfield Director's Cup in 2013-14 with seven teams posting top-10 national finishes. A total of 22 Tar Heel teams advanced to postseason play, led by a second place finish by women's tennis and a final four appearance by field hockey. Carolina also had top-10 national finishes in women's lacrosse (fifth), men's tennis (fifth), women's basketball (fifth), women's soccer (fifth) and men's lacrosse (ninth).
In 2012-13, Cunningham's first full season at UNC, Carolina finished eighth in the Director's Cup on the strength of national championships in women's soccer and women's lacrosse. The Tar Heels also had top-10 finishes in field hockey (second), baseball (third), men's lacrosse (fifth), men's soccer (fifth) and women's tennis (fifth). The women's tennis team captured the ITA national indoor title and six other programs finished in the top 25.
The UNC women's athletics program captured the 2013 Capital One Cup, which is awarded to the best men's and women's Division I athletics programs in the country. For winning its first Capital One Cup, the Tar Heels earned $200,000 toward student-athlete scholarships and a spot at the annual ESPY Awards show in Los Angeles.
Carolina student-athletes excelled in the classroom as well. During the 2013-14 academic calendar, more than 300 student-athletes made the ACC Academic Honor Roll, which requires a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 for the year. It was the second-consecutive season Carolina had produced more than 300 honorees. In the fall of 2012, 120 student-athletes made the Dean's List, and 129 did so in the spring of 2013.
Cunningham has hired coaches in football and track and field and the future is bright for both programs. Charismatic Larry Fedora was hired from Southern Miss, and has produced back-to-back winning seasons in his first two years in Chapel Hill. Track and field coach Harlis Meaders, a 1992 UNC grad, replaced long-time coach Dennis Craddock who retired. Carolina finished second at the ACC outdoor track and field championships in Meaders' second year.
Cunningham is in his 12th year as a Division I director of athletics. He came to Chapel Hill after spending the previous six years as the director of athletics at the University of Tulsa. He also was the AD for three years from 2002-2005 at Ball State University. He was honored as the 2008-09 FBS Central Region Athletics Director of the Year, an award presented by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
At Tulsa, Cunningham guided the Golden Hurricane through its initial move to Conference USA and spearheaded a $60 million athletics initiative, which included a $20 million renovation to Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium, a goal of $20 million for an athletics scholarship endowment and $20 million for coaches' salary endowment.
Cunningham implemented and developed a strategic plan for personal and professional growth and development for Tulsa's student-athletes, coaches and staff. He presided over the completion of the $8.5 million Case Athletic Complex, which houses football offices and academic support center for student-athletes.
Tulsa won 34 league championships in his tenure, more than any other school in Conference USA. Men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, men's soccer, softball, men's and women's tennis and volleyball participated in post-season play. The football program played in five bowl games in his last six years, winning four of those games.
Cunningham hired former Tulsa football coach Todd Graham, who led the Golden Hurricane to three 10-win seasons in a four-year span, the first time it had been accomplished in school history.
Tulsa student-athletes excelled academically, earning 17 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America performances over the last five years. More than 170 student-athletes earned Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll accolades each season, including 199 in 2009-10, and 11 student-athletes won C-USA Scholar Athlete of the Year honors.
In 2010-11, the Golden Hurricane finished 51st nationally in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup, Tulsa's highest finish in the history of the competition.
At Ball State, Cunningham led a program with 19 intercollegiate sports and a budget of $12.4 million. In his final year, Ball State completed a $12 million campaign to renovate the football stadium. In raising those funds, Cunningham secured the largest single gift in Ball State athletics history.
Under the leadership of Brady Hoke, whom Cunningham hired in 2003, the Cardinals played the first-ever night game in Ball State Stadium and developed a marketing plan that helped set a record for football season attendance. He was able to secure funding exclusively from private donors to have permanent lights installed at Ball State Stadium.
From 1988-2002, Cunningham worked in the athletics department at the University of Notre Dame. Cunningham served as associate director of athletics for external affairs from 2000-02. He renegotiated the school's footwear contract, developed a communications and marketing plan, created marketing teams for all 26 varsity sports, increased corporate sponsorship income, created a financial/equity plan for the department and served as chairman of the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Committee.
He served as Notre Dame's associate athletics director for finance and facilities from 1995-2000. Cunningham was responsible for developing an equity plan to meet Title IX requirements, completed the master plan for athletic facilities, coordinated the bid process and negotiation with Westwood for football radio rights and helped plan and complete the $50 million renovation and 20,000-seat expansion of Notre Dame Stadium. He also coordinated the planning and construction of the Warren Golf Course, an 18-hole championship course on the Notre Dame campus.
Cunningham earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration, both from Notre Dame, in 1984 and 1988, respectively. He played on the Irish golf team in 1982-83.
Cunningham is a member of NACDA's Executive Committee, and was on the Board of Directors of the Alzheimers Association of Oklahoma and the Folds of Honor Foundation Board. Cunningham also served on the Gatorade National Advisory Board and has been a featured speaker at numerous NACDA and I-A institute conferences.
Born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Naples, Fla., Cunningham and his wife, Tina, have four children: Matthew, Michael, John and Sarah.