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Unusual Hierarchy Behind Unc Search

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff



November 8, 2006

CHAPEL HILL - The mechanics of the process in which North Carolina will hire a replacement for football coach John Bunting require athletic director Dick Baddour to forward a candidate to chancellor James Moeser, who then will forward the name to the university's Board of Trustees for final approval.

But it's not that simple.

The unique position of Baddour, whose track record as the Tar Heels' AD is far more impressive in terms of money management, non-revenue sports and other things than it is in handling hiring decisions for football and men's basketball, has necessitated an extremely unusual approach at UNC.

This summer, when Baddour's contract was up for discussion with the Board of Trustees, the consensus among UNC's power brokers was that Baddour was a loyal soldier who was doing a good-enough job in most areas, but that he absolutely should not be the Tar Heels' point man should it become necessary to hire another head coach in either of the high-profile, revenue-generating sports.

At most schools, that single asterisk likely would be enough to prevent a contract extension for an athletic director, given the fact that many in college athletics believe that an AD has no job more important than solidifying the head coaching positions in men's basketball and football. Thus, conventional wisdom suggested that an extension would be even more unlikely in the case of Baddour, given the shaky pre-2006 status of Bunting, whose only winning season in his first five years at UNC came in his 2001 debut.

At Carolina, it doesn't work that way. School officials constantly talk about doing things the "right way," on and off the field. In their eyes, that means graduating players and producing good citizens while fielding championship teams. It also means treating people with dignity, especially alums and others with significant ties to the university, even during times of strife and discord.

Thus, when it came time for a decision on Baddour this summer, the BOT chose neither of the conventional options: (1) giving him an extension, with all of the usual responsibilities that go with the AD position, or (2) firing him or, in classic Carolina fashion, re-assigning him to another part of the university.

Instead, the BOT ultimately decided on a third, hybrid option. It was one that could be completely understood only by those who have been around the unique, extremely image-conscious and often-incestuous philosophy of UNC athletics for many years. Baddour got his contract extension, through 2009, but it was understood that he wasn't going to have the traditional role of an AD if it became necessary during that timeframe to hire a replacement for Bunting.

Sure enough, the Tar Heels (1-8) have suffered through a disastrous 2006 season, and the need to let Bunting go became obvious in October. With the midseason announcement that Bunting was fired, effective at the end of the season, UNC accelerated into full coaching-search mode.

That begged an important question, one for which it was impossible to get anyone at Carolina to attach their name to a response: If Baddour isn't running the search the way an AD normally would, which is absolutely true whether or not you admit it publicly, who are the key players representing UNC?

The answer, according to multiple sources at UNC and elsewhere in college athletics, is a combination of people. At the top of the list, especially during the prolonged Butch Davis chapter of the Tar Heels' search, is Board of Trustees member Paul Fulton.

UNC's 13-member BOT has many members who have shown particularly high levels of interest in the university's athletic matters in the past. Topping the list are Fulton, Rusty Carter of Wilmington, John Ellison of Greensboro, Don Stallings of Rocky Mount and Richard "Stick" Williams of Charlotte. BOT chairman Nelson Schwab III of Charlotte is not as hands-on with athletics as others on the board, but he also has been an influential figure in the search.

Fulton, a 1957 UNC graduate, adopted the role of the Tar Heels' "point man" in early discussions with Davis. A very wealthy businessman from Winston-Salem, Fulton is a former president of Sara Lee Corporation (1987-93) and a former CEO of Bassett Furniture Industries. He also served as the dean of the UNC business school from 1994-97.

"A lot of people around here wondered who (at UNC) could go out, sell the idea that we should aim high and be willing to spend the (big) money for our next coach, identify the right candidate, inspire that candidate, and then bring him back to UNC," one high-ranking UNC source said. "There are many people involved right now, but Paul Fulton has proven to be that person in my eyes."

Even as Baddour served as the main spokesman (he intentionally said very little of substance) for UNC during the search, he said there was no "formal committee" helping him as the process unfolded. However, in addition to Baddour, Moeser, Fulton and other BOT members, Chuck Neinas and Matt Kupec were two more names to add to the complex mix.

Much already has been made of the hiring of Neinas, the president of Neinas Sports Services of Boulder, Colo., and a respected coaching-search guru with many years of experience and lots of vital contacts in college athletics.

Neinas serves as an intermediary between schools and coaches, providing detailed, objective information to both sides in a confidential manner. A candidate wants information about the Tar Heels' recruiting budget, or academic standards, or football infrastructure? Neinas provides it. A school wants information about a candidate's salary demands, or his preliminary interest in the job? Neinas gets the answers and passes them along, confidentially.

Meanwhile, Moeser always has had a strong relationship with Baddour, and he is not known as someone who gets involved in the day-to-day operations of the athletic department, even during coaching searches.

However, Moeser's position on individual candidates clearly will be influenced by Kupec, UNC's vice chancellor for university advancement, who often has been described as a "right-hand man" for the chancellor, especially on athletic matters. A former quarterback for the Tar Heels, Kupec was one of the top candidates for the school's AD post in 1997, when Baddour got the job.

Many outsiders likely consider it extremely strange that UNC's approach to its football coaching search includes an unspecified role for its sitting AD, but undeniable amounts of input from several other key figures. But that's par for the course at Carolina.

"We don't care if it's unconventional, or if people think it's odd," the UNC source said. "We just need to hire the right coach. That's what's important."