Since Lawrence R. (Bubba) Cunningham officially began his duties as Carolina’s director of athletics on November 14, 2011, UNC has graduated more than 850 student-athletes while consistently competing for championships in an array of different sports – exciting, motivating and influencing along the way. Under Cunningham’s leadership, the athletic department has accomplished numerous academic and athletic achievements:
- The Tar Heels have won 10 national titles and made an additional 10 runner-up finishes.
- More than 385 student-athletes have made the ACC Academic Honor Roll — which requires a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better for the year – each of the past six years.
- Carolina’s APR has steadily risen, and 15 teams scored a perfect 1000 in 2017-18. In 2017-18, 10 teams received APR recognition, which is the highest number of programs honored among public institutions in the ACC and a first-place tie for the most teams honored among public schools in the Power 5 conferences.
- The Tar Heels finished in the top eight of the NACDA Learfield Directors’ Cupfive times.
- And student-athletes have logged more than 30,000 hours of community service, helping at hospitals and local schools, and partnering with a variety of local and national groups.
Cunningham has led by supporting, challenging and innovating. Shortly after beginning his tenure as Carolina’s athletics director, he led a strategic planning process that defined a new mission statement: “We educate and inspire through athletics.”
And that’s just what UNC has done during his seven years in Chapel Hill.
Among Carolina’s many achievements during his tenure are a partnership with Disney to enhance customer service and organizational practices; the development of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group; a compliance review by an outside firm; a student-athlete degree completion program called Complete Carolina; a master plan for UNC’s athletic facilities; and the creation of The Rammys — an innovative end-of-the-year awards show popular with Carolina’s student-athletes and staff.
At the beginning of 2018, the department launched “Together We Win,” an updated strategic plan and vision for Carolina Athletics for the next five years. In the fall of 2018, Carolina finished construction on a new field hockey stadium, track and field complex and chair back project at Kenan Stadium, the next steps in a transformative array of athletics facilities projects that will also include a new football practice facility and lacrosse/soccer stadium as well as a new media and communications center.
Cunningham’s leadership has also extended outside of Chapel Hill. In 2018, he accepted an invitation to serve on the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Advisory Council. He is the past president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) andsits on the board of LEAD1, an association representing the ADs from the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools; He is in his eighth year on the ACC Television Committee; He is currently serving on the ACC Autonomy Committee; and has served on numerous NCAA committees over the last two decades.
He 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.
Cunningham is in his 17th 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, where he guided the Golden Hurricane through its initial move to Conference USA and spearheaded a $60 million athletics initiative. Tulsa won 34 league championships during his tenure, more than any other school in Conference USA, and the football program played in five bowl games in his final six years. 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.
He also served as Ball State University’s Athletic Director from 2002-2005. There, he 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.
Cunningham, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Notre Dame in 1984 and 1988, respectively, worked in his alma mater’s athletics department from 1988-2002. A former member of the Irish golf team (1982-83), Cunningham served as Notre Dame’s Associate Athletics Director for finance and facilities from 1995-2000 and was the Associate Director of Athletics for external affairs from 2000-02.
Cunningham also has served on the Gatorade National Advisory Board and has been a featured speaker at numerous NACDA and LEAD1 conferences.
Born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Naples, Fla., Cunningham and his wife, Tina, have four grown children: Matthew, Michael, John and Sarah, and daughter-in-law, Emily.