Daily Nexus: When you look back at your career, what are you most proud of?
Gary Cunningham: When I look at everything that we have, [the ICA building] is something that’s a real point of pride. We were in five different buildings before and in different trailers and things so now we’ve got everyone together. It’s not official but I think we’ve won the Commissioner’s Cup this year. That would be seven out of eight years so that’s something I’m really proud of. I’m proud of our student athletes and our graduation rate. We’re not exploiting student athletes, they achieve in the pool or on the field or wherever and they still achieve in the classroom. We’ve made a lot of strides but there’s still a lot to do.
[Editor’s Note: UCSB was announced as the Commissioner’s Cup winner later in the week.]
Can you talk a little about the way you judge the success of UCSB’s student athletes?
I want student athletes to achieve in their athletic endeavors but to get a good education and have a good experience. That’s utopia; that’s what I’d want. Our graduation rate is higher than the overall student body, and that makes me feel really good. We’ve fallen down in certain areas and certain sports, but we’ve corrected that, and we’re on the right track to get that back in line. We want people to walk away from this place well prepared for the world.
What’s your role in the search for the new athletic director?
I have no role in it, but I’m available as a resource if they want to ask me. I think they’re down to five or 10 people. It’s a huge committee, but I’m not involved in it. At some point, if they want my opinion, I’ll give it to them, but it was my choice not to be a part of the process, because I don’t think I should be the one picking my successor. That’s really a university decision.”
What would you personally look for in your successor?
I would like somebody to come in here with the same values that I’ve had for 13 years, as far as wanting to win in the worst way, but doing it the right way and the honest way, and not exploiting student athletes. There’s lots to do here. We don’t know what our budget cuts are going to be, but I know we’re going to get cut. We’ll have to cut some things, so one of the most important things for a person to come into this is to be able to fundraise. You’ve got to be able to meet people and fundraise, and we’re going to have to find someone who can multitask, because we don’t have a big staff. I have to do things here that at other schools I wouldn’t do because we don’t have the staff. We all need money to get the job done. That’s how you build facilities and get more scholarships. That’s how it all works.
Will the budget cuts eventually lead to the department making the decision to cut sports?
I don’t think any sports will be cut. The Chancellor and I agree on this. We don’t want to cut any sports, and we want to find other ways to do it. The hardest thing here is with our scholarships and things, when tuition is raised, [students] get hit, but we get hit on our grant and aids. It seems like every year, I have to find $150,000 to $200,000 just to stay even. It all comes back to ‘How are we going to pay the bills?’ We’re not going to cut sports, but we have to step up our fundraising.
What do you anticipate happening with the Campus Pool situation?
I can’t give you a definite answer right now. There’s been a series of meetings going on. This pool over here is scheduled to go. When they build the new buildings, it’s gone, so the question for the university is ‘Where are our aquatics going to go?’ If another pool is not built, there’s only one solution: the Rec Cen, and the Rec Cen governing board doesn’t want ICA in the pool. We’ve been able to use it occasionally, when things are shut down, but not on a regular basis. We want to build a pool, but we don’t know whether we can raise enough money to afford one on this campus. We’re being told it’ll be about about 12 million, and that’s a lot of money to raise. We think we can raise four to five million, but we don’t know whether we can raise 12. The big controversy is where to put it, but we don’t have the money to put it anywhere right now. It’s a lot of money, and whether the campus would help or the Rec Cen, I don’t know. Money’s tough for students right now, so it’s hard to ask them to step up and tax themselves. The buildings [by Campus Pool] are going to get built, but there’s no pool in that fund. As I understand, part of the new buildings are going to be built where the pool is.
We understand you don’t run your own facilities. How does that work?
Mr. Jon Spaventa’s area is commissioned with overseeing all facilities. What we have is agreements of when we can use the track or the facilities for all our sports. The UCen has the Thunderdome, but the rest of it is over there. We don’t have control over any facilities. We’re what you call tenants, but we have working agreements, and for the most part, it works out. I’ve been at four other schools before I came here, and it’s a different structure than any school I’ve ever been at. Any school I’ve been at, the facilities are scheduled out of the athletics department with a cooperative attitude of not shortchanging students. When it comes to making upgrades, Exercise and Sports Studies will do maintenance, but as far as the upgrades, we have to raise money. If we want to have a dressing room in baseball, we have to raise the money to do it. One of the things we want to do down the line is build a locker room for softball, but we have to raise the money for that. The toughest thing is raising that money in order to get it done. Camps in the summer are not under us, which presents a problem. The problem is that other camps use the fields and tear them up, and the money goes back to the recreation department. The agreement several years ago was that when the facilities went over to [the Department of Recreation], the agreement was that they would do the summer camps and schedule activities, but they would give the Athletic Department $240,000 a year in exchange for that. At that time, that was about 44 scholarships, but by today’s standards, it’s about 12 to 13 so there’s no inflation added to it. I don’t know if they make a profit on that, but we get a check ever year for $240,000. If my coaches want to run a camp, they have to go through that department.
Could you see a time when the two departments come back together as one?
Right now, we’re duplicating a lot of things. We have two accounting departments that could be one, and you could save a lot of money by bringing them together. It’s awkward in the summer. We put all the money into Harder Stadium. We did the field and the locker rooms and all that, and Tim Vom Steeg raised all the money for that, but the field gets beat up during the summer camps, which is hard when it comes to having a Division I playing surface during the year.
When you hired Tim Vom Steeg, did you have any idea that he would be this successful?
I thought Tim was a good coach and a very driven coach, and I thought he could win. I didn’t know whether he could win a national championship, but I knew he could win. I remember we went over to Carrows and I sat with him for four hours and we just talked. He told me this at the time, and I thought it was pretty risky, but he told me he wanted to win a national championship. You don’t want to say that stuff because it really puts you on the spot, but he did it. He has the right stuff. You always hope, but I didn’t think the success would be at the level it is. Whenever I hire a coach, I don’t want anyone here that doesn’t feel like they can succeed. I try not to hire caretakers, and I think we’ve had some pretty darn good coaches come into this program.
What has Tim done that’s enabled the program to be so successful?
Tim’s done a great job with fundraising. Every coach has that opportunity, and that augments some of the things that they don’t have in their budget, and Tim is one of the best. He just goes after it, and he’ll raise upwards of $100,000 every year, which is a lot of money. The hardest thing for Tim is he gets a good program and he gets a good player and then the players get good enough that the pros want them, so they’re gone in January or February. But if you don’t get lazy, you can keep getting replacements that are as good.
Can you see other coaches on campus duplicating his success?
I think there are certain sports that I see that we can potentially win national championships in. Men’s volleyball, where I’m looking for a coach right now, could win. When you look at it, there are only a little over 20 schools that compete, but I think that’s a sport with potential. Tennis has potential, and I think women’s volleyball has potential. Baseball possibly and softball possibly, and I think we can win it in water polo. If we get a new pool, I think Wolf [Wigo] will win a national championship, and UCSB will be a real power. The basketballs are very hard, because of the elite schools and the kind of players they get. We have good basketball programs, but that’s a real stretch. I think the fact that Tim did it is further indication to our coaches that it can be done. We just need facilities and some of the other things and some of the other things.
What do you think of the bathroom situation at Caesar Uyesaka?
I hate the bathrooms, but again, it’s a money deal. We’ve got to have that, and I’ve really tried to do it. You have to go through all kinds of wickets on this campus with different committees, and I’ve never heard of anyone interested in donating for a restroom, but it’s such a needed thing. I’m absolutely embarrassed by it, though.
How hard is it to make changes at get things done at this school?
I think it’s a very complicated process here to get things done. You’ve got to go through a couple of committees just to get the green light to go ahead, and then you have to work with facilities management. They’re nice people, but they take their fees too. As an administrator, you can’t get discouraged, and you have to keep pushing and pushing. I know what we need with our facilities; it’s just the money and the approval. We’d like to fix the restrooms, and the softball locker rooms, and light the track and fix up the seating. I’d like to add on a building to the Thunderdome with better locker rooms and meeting rooms and things like that. I have a plan for it, but we don’t have any money for it. We’d like to have retractable chair back seats on the community side. I’m not sure about the student side, because we know they like to crowd in there. I can go down every facility and tell you what needs to be done to make it better, but it’s a matter of money, and if you have the money, you still have to go through all the wickets.
Final question: How would you characterize your relationship with the [Department of Recreation], and how do you think it will be in the future?
During my time, the relationship at this level has been OK, but it hasn’t been without challenges at times. There aren’t always agreements, but we’ve worked through things. The structure is what it is, and given that, we’ve worked through our problems and made it work.