North Carolina Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham knows first-hand how important the school’s basketball tradition is.
“This is the most iconic basketball program in the country,” he said after Roy Williams’ retirement, “and I'm involved in making the decision on who's going to be the next head coach. The history, tradition, and legacy are really important. Winning is important. … Quite frankly, college basketball is better when North Carolina is good, and we need to be good, and we're committed to being good. We have to find the right leader that can maintain the standards that we've become accustomed to."
While past UNC hires have focused heavily on former players and members of the Carolina “Family,” Cunningham doesn’t have a requirement that candidates have a connection.
“No, I don't,” he said. “You know, it's the same with head coaching experience, Carolina experience; I want to get the best coach for us right now. One may be a benefit for somebody, and it might be a strike against somebody else, but, you know, again, it's really trying to find who is the right leader for this program right now, with our student-athletes that we have on campus and the kids that we're trying to recruit. We're going to pursue championships, and who is the best person to lead us in that direction?"
While the process may be more open than in the past, Cunningham will make sure former players have input.
"I do want to touch base with as many former Carolina players as possible,” he said. “I started that (Thursday) morning, reaching out to former players and getting their thoughts and ideas. That's been really helpful. I've been here almost 10 years, and I feel like I really understand Carolina, but I don't have that deep thing that Roy has, and I and I haven't been here my entire career. I really want to hear from them and get their thoughts because they have built this program. Those players, those students, have built this program to what it is, along with the coaches — and I value that. I want to do right by them. I also think that I don't want to be myopic. I don't want to be myopic on, as I said, the head coaching thing. I don't want to be myopic on the Carolina experience because they both bring great value in different ways.”
Cunningham has already made progress on talking to former Tar Heels. “I would like to contact every player that's ever played,” he said. “I won't be able to do that. But the ones that you all know, I have reached out to many of them already. I will continue to reach out to all of them. I mean, I want to talk to multi-generational players. I want to talk to and have talked to some of these names. I don't know whether it's Marcus Paige, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Phil Ford, Eric Montross. Multi-generational people that have been at Carolina, that have a vested interest in this program, have built this program. Plus many more, and I've talked to many more than the ones I just mentioned. So, I'll be reaching out to all of them.”