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Bubba Cunningham Interview (6-2-20)

The Drive with Josh Graham / Josh Graham
The Truth Network Radio
June 2, 2020 6:08 pm

Bubba Cunningham Interview (6-2-20)

The Drive with Josh Graham / Josh Graham

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June 2, 2020 6:08 pm

Bubba Cunningham joined The Drive with Josh Graham to discuss where COVID-19 ranks among his professional hurdles, to give an update on UNC athletics, and more. 

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INTRO Take me behind the scenes on what the communication has looked like. While many of you have still been at home, how many of your coaches and players have you spoken with on the subject? Oh boy, I've talked to a lot of them as teams and individually, but we actually have a call tomorrow night. I have a call with all of our student athletes.

We have a Zoom call set up for all 800. We had a couple of conflicts early this week, so the soonest we could set it up was tomorrow, but most of our students have been speaking with their coaches and it's just a very difficult time for everyone. People are just searching for answers and trying to search for understanding of how do senseless acts like that continue to happen. Then we have the lawful protests and then those turn ugly. It is so divisive. It's a really difficult time emotionally for a lot of people.

We spend a lot of time with our staff as well because many of our staff members are African American. Some of them have kids between 15 and 25 years old and they have anxiety and fear and frustration. We're all working through a very tense time with the pandemic and then you put this on top of it and it can be overwhelming for some. I think conversations are helpful, but we really need to move toward solutions.

Less talking and more action is kind of cliche as well, but there's certainly a lot of things that we can do to try to change the course of our future. With you working in college athletics, being an AD for nearly two decades, and me working in sports radio, we both are around young people so often. It's funny, it always seems like every generation is critical of the next generation coming up. They're a very easy pinata on many different occasions, but as you're describing what's been a very tumultuous week, I find optimism from the younger generation that seems very interested in shedding identity-based prejudice. They have more information available to them because of these phones that you can essentially find whatever you want to look up at any point, and it seems to me they're more compassionate than they've ever been as well.

As somebody who works with as many student athletes as you are privileged to be with, what makes this group different, this group in this generation different from the ones you've dealt with in the past? I think you've done a great job summarizing it. You certainly have been observant with this generation.

You're right. For whatever reason, they are much more in tune to those issues that you've just described. Sexuality, race, those things are non-issues to this generation, but what they're looking for are opportunities, and what I feel like as leaders, we need to make sure that we provide more than hope. We need to provide hope, but we need to provide opportunities for them to reach their dreams and to be successful in what they want to do. There's been this gap of achievement, this gap of opportunity between the races, and I think that we have failed certain parts of our population in our educational systems or our legal systems, and I think that those are the areas where the youth really want to make a difference.

I think it's the older people that need to be open-minded and to recognize that they have a lot of good ideas, and they want people to be successful, and they want people to find happiness in fulfillment in what they find to be interesting and fulfilling, not what we think they should do, and I think that's a mindset change for some of us that have been doing it for a long time. It's North Carolina Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham with us on Sports Hub Triad. Let me remind people of what you put out last week announcing a plan to return to campus. It's already started with facility staff members moving in yesterday. June the 8th is when the sports medicine staff is scheduled to return. June the 12th, coaching staff for football, men's basketball, women's basketball, and then football student athletes will move in in separate groups on the 12th, 19th, 26th, and 29th respectively. And then a big day is July the 6th when men's and women's basketball student athletes are going to be welcomed back. Field hockey, volleyball, men's and women's soccer cross country, they're going to be coming back on July the 13th.

It's funny, or not really funny, but interesting. John Swafford, he joined us I think about a month ago, and he was the Director of Athletics and the chair that you currently sit in. A few decades ago, he's been the ACC Commish since 97. And I asked him where March the 12th and this challenge of COVID-19 ranked among things he dealt with.

And without hesitation, he said this is number one, and I don't even know what number two is. You were once an AD at Tulsa when they transitioned from where they were to Conference USA. And you've dealt with a lot, including the NCAA stuff early in your tenure. So I wonder, where does this challenge, trying to put together something that's such a moving target, something like returning to campus, but really the entire challenge of coronavirus rank among things you've dealt with as a Director of Athletics?

Oh, I think I would definitely agree with Commissioner Swafford. You know, I was thinking back on that. When it first happened, someone asked me a very similar question and said, you know, what are some of the most challenging things you've dealt with? And at the time, I thought when I was at Tulsa, we had traveled up to Utah to Provo, and we were playing BYU, and there was a rain and lightning storm, and we delayed the game 20 minutes, and I thought that was a big deal. And it's really, it's a lot different now when you've canceled the NCAA tournament, canceled the ACC tournament.

We haven't had students on campus in three months. I look back at that and think, oh my gosh, you thought that was a problem? That's like a hiccup. And this is by far, you know, no one has experienced this in our lifetime, and you had to be alive in the early 1900s during the Spanish flu to see anything like this in our country.

And you just don't expect it. You know, the other things that have surprised me since I've been at Carolina, you know, we had to delay a football game because we had ice. We had to delay a basketball, the Duke basketball game because of a snowstorm.

We had to move a game to Greensboro because we didn't have water. I mean, I do feel like we've had a few incidents that I didn't realize would happen in the United States, and this one takes the cake, though. But I think we've handled it pretty well. I give our chancellor a lot of credit. He said the other day, he said, you know, if we gave our faculty, you know, and said, hey, we want to move to online education for our students, it would take 15 committees and three years to do that.

But when you say, hey, we have to do it within 10 days, they got it done in 10 days. So I give them a ton of credit for really responding to a very difficult situation to deliver education for this past semester. And now we're preparing for both in classroom education and online should, you know, we get a second wave that we think we have to make another adjustment in the future. Based on information you've received that's allowed you to mold a return to campus plan, what gives you optimism we'll be able to safely play football this fall?

Well, I think people really want to get back to normal, and we only want to do that if we can do it safely. And, you know, at Carolina, it's great. The infectious disease folks that we have, the epidemiologists, those are the guys and women that are advising Kevin to make the decision to bring our students back and to bring the campus back to fully operational. And we're trying to create the educational experiences that the students signed up for when they enrolled at Carolina.

So the classroom work is part of it, the sense of community, the athletic events, all of that is part of the collegiate experience. And we're trying to do it so carefully in phases, bring some students back, test them, do some tracing, make sure that we don't have it spreading too fast that we can handle this as a community. And hopefully that will work. You know, the experts think we have a chance that it will work. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not. Will we have to modify it as we go?

Probably. But I think we really trust the experts and we're going to do things safely. You know, Kevin has a son who's going to be a junior at Carolina. Many of our faculty have sons and daughters there, so they're not going to do anything that's going to put their own children at risk. And we certainly wouldn't do it with someone else's kids either. Assuming we still don't have a vaccine, Bubba, we're being joined by Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina director of athletics.

Where do you stand in terms of comfort on having fans in the stands at Keenan? Well, you know, if we if we did it today, we wouldn't have them. But, you know, four months ago, we were playing in full arenas and we don't have a home game for another three and a half months. So we're preparing for a variety of options. We might have to reduce it in some capacity.

Certainly mask and face coverings are certainly something that's getting a lot of traction now that can really reduce the risk. It's a ways off. So we're continuing to plan. I'm hopeful we'll have the sports. I'm even more hopeful we'll have fans when we do have them. But trying to predict how many or what percentage.

I think it's a little premature to try to to forecast that because we do have quite some time ahead of us. Do you have a good Michael Jordan story? Because what's funny, we were talking to, I think, Joel Berry. And Joel mentioned that after they lost the championship game in 16, Michael came into the locker room and talked to the team. And then we asked Coach Williams about it. And Roy said he was sitting on a stool outside of the locker room. And when someone tapped on his shoulder, it was Michael. And Roy said, I didn't know what to say at that moment to my team.

That would be good enough. And Michael said, I'll take care of it. And he walked into the locker room and I thought that was a pretty cool deal. Being in the chair, you sit and also with North Carolina having a unique partnership with Air Jordan. Anything stick out when you think about experiences you've had around Michael?

Interesting. Well, you know, gosh, I don't know when he was playing with the Bulls, maybe in his last year with the Bulls, I had gone over to Chicago on one of the Mondays where he played an awful lot of golf on Mondays. And just, you know, as he still plays an awful lot of golf. But so I was fortunate enough to play with them. And, you know, as anybody says, when you get around somebody like that for the first time, it's pretty nerve wracking. And so we get to the first tee and and, you know, so the obvious question comes up and said, what do you want to play for? And his response was, whatever makes you uncomfortable.

And, you know, being here makes me uncomfortable. And so we had a great time with him. And, you know, he didn't know me from Adam, but we had some mutual friends and it was really fortunate to play. Well, you know, ironically, twenty five years later, I become the AD at North Carolina and we run into each other at an event with Gatorade. And he looks at me and goes, you have got to be kidding me. You are now the athletic director of my school. I can't believe it. So we we shared a couple of times together.

There was an awful lot of fun. Did you take money off Michael or did he take money off you? I'll take the fifth on that. Sounds good. Bubba, appreciate you spending the time. I know it's been a really busy week for you and appreciate you sharing a bunch of information with our audience. I appreciate it. Thanks for your time as well. I appreciate what you're doing and keeping everyone calm and promoting athletics, because I do think sports and providing educational opportunities for kids to get an education is one of the best ways that we can beat racism and provide opportunities for people to achieve their dreams. So thank you very much. That's well said. Thanks, Bubba. Thank you. There he goes. He's on Twitter at Bubba UNC. He's the director of athletics at North Carolina.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-12 01:01:59 / 2023-02-12 01:07:23 / 5

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