Something happened between the time Bubba Cunningham told friends he was going to leave Tulsa University to accept the athletic director’s position at Kansas University and the time Tulsa announced Thursday he had signed a new contract with the Conference USA school.
Cunningham thought he wanted to succeed Lew Perkins, but when it came time to pull the trigger, he couldn’t do it.
He’s not the first man in sports to have a change of heart.
Former Kansas football coach Glen Mason accepted the job at Georgia as his team prepared for an appearance in the Aloha Bowl, but he changed his mind and stayed in Lawrence for one more year before bolting for Minnesota, where he prematurely was fired after the 2006 season.
On December 26, 2009, Florida football coach Urban Meyer announced he would resign after his team played in the Sugar Bowl on New Years Day. The next day, Meyer said he instead would take a leave of absence for health reasons. He coached the Gators one more year.
Former Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins accepted the job at South Carolina, his alma mater, only to change his mind three days later, when he decided to stay in Atlanta.
Dana Altman’s heart didn’t look into it when he stood beside Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and sort of joined him in doing the school’s hog call.
Altman’s opening words: “I’m not sure my friends in Omaha would like to see me do that.”
One day later, he rejoined his friends in Omaha.
Cunningham didn’t make it all the way to a press conference. Why not? What happened? The time has arrived for Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to end her silence on the AD search with the truth as she sees it.
The truth might just be that leaving Tulsa for Kansas didn’t feel any more right to Cunningham than coaching in the South felt to Mason or doing the hog call felt to Altman. If that’s the case, the search for the smoking gun will lead nowhere. Not long after unreported speculation was whispered by one voice in Lawrence, Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports tweeted words similar to that whisper: “When you agree to terms on a contract with someone, you better have those same terms on paper.”
Let’s say there were two offers, one to which Cunningham agreed, a second he couldn’t bring himself to sign.
If that happened, in the interest of transparency, the chancellor wouldn’t be harming anyone by identifying the differences. Let the public decide whether she deserves the blame for failing to make him comfortable enough to close the deal, or if Cunningham — who had convinced the search committee he wanted the job — latched onto a technicality to slip out of a move that, in the end, just didn’t feel right to him.
Cunningham was the right guy, but if another candidate of equal caliber can be landed, the first choice’s rejection won’t even be the second-worst thing to happen in the KU athletic department this week, ranking third, right behind junior college quarterback Zack Stoudt’s decision to reject KU’s offer in favor of Ole Miss. Stoudt might be more difficult to replace. The sad arrest of Mario Little early Thursday morning, of course, ranks at the top.