Bubba Cunningham spent Wednesday in contract negotiations to become the next athletic director at Kansas, but a deal had not been reached as of Wednesday night, a source close to the situation said.
The source said that the university does not anticipate a snag in finalizing an agreement, but the timeline for an announcement of Cunningham, 48, as the successor to former athletic director Lew Perkins remains unclear.
It would make sense for KU to introduce Cunningham, the athletic director at the University of Tulsa since 2005, at halftime of the Jayhawks' basketball game Saturday against Southern California at Allen Fieldhouse — a momentous occasion already because of the debut of formerly suspended freshman guard Josh Selby. Still, it's possible that Cunningham intends to accompany the Tulsa football team to its bowl game on Dec. 24 in Hawaii before taking over at KU.
When contacted on Wednesday, Ray Evans, the chairman of KU's athletic director search committee, would not confirm that Kansas and Cunningham were negotiating a contract.
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Despite no official word coming from the university on Cunningham, Kansas fans and alums were abuzz on Wednesday as the news spread that Cunningham was the choice of KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
"Let's get back to what we do well and get out of the shadow of this awful, awful year that we've had," said Mick Allen, a Lawrence attorney and the grandson of legendary former KU coach "Phog" Allen. "Certainly with what's gone on before him the last year, I think (KU fans) view him as a man that's going to be very straight-laced and on top of all aspects of being an athletic director."
Cunningham's first priority at KU would be rebuilding trust among fans in the wake of several scandals in the past year, including questions about Perkins' travel and alleged receipt of improper gifts.
The misuse of $2 million worth of men's basketball and football tickets led to the resignations of at least seven top athletic department staff members, five of whom were recently indicted by a federal grand jury.
Perkins, who had been at KU since 2003, came to a mutual decision with Gray-Little in September to retire a year ahead of schedule.
Larry Tenopir, a Topeka attorney who was formerly gave $3,000 a year to the Williams Educational Fund, did not renew his basketball season tickets for this season because of dissatisfaction with Perkins. Tenopir answered quickly on Wednesday when asked what Cunningham should do upon being hired at Kansas.
"Shake a lot of hands," Tenopir said. "Try to repair the damage that's been done face to face."
Tenopir said he attended an annual luncheon on Wednesday that KU coach Bill Self holds for KU supporters in Topeka. He said it was the type of event that he'd like to see Cunningham attend.
"I'm just excited to have a change," Tenopir said. "I hope they start doing things differently."
Many KU alums and donors will be looking for more transparency from the athletic department in all things but especially in the Williams Fund seat selection process that was exploited in the ticket scandal.
"I think more than anything, that's what they're looking for," Allen said, "that when he tells you something, you can believe it."
Of course, it will take more than integrity to make fans happy. One of Cunningham's top responsibilities will be making sure the Kansas football program becomes a consistent winner, and he appears to have the pedigree to do it. Cunningham spent 15 years at his alma mater, Notre Dame, before taking the athletic director jobs at Ball State and then Tulsa. At each stop, he made a coaching hire (Brady Hoke at Ball State and Todd Graham at Tulsa) that translated into success.
"I think the university is going to benefit from his experience," said Mark Allen, another of "Phog" Allen's grandsons. "They need a leader right now. I don't see any negatives here, I really don't. We gotta move forward. You know, we've had a lot of stuff happen to us in the past. It's time for some good news. I think Bubba will be good news to this athletic department."