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UND ATHLETICS: Buning scores low in survey

UND athletic department employees have spoken, and their collective voice comes through loud and clear. They aren't happy with Athletic Director Tom Buning's leadership. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the best, Buning was given an average ove...

UND athletic department employees have spoken, and their collective voice comes through loud and clear.

They aren't happy with Athletic Director Tom Buning's leadership.

On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the best, Buning was given an average overall performance rating of 2.14 from athletic department personnel, including an average score of 2.7 from head coaches, according to a university survey obtained by the Herald on Wednesday afternoon.

The university announced Monday that Buning is taking a leave of absence from the school and said Tuesday that Betty Ralston and Steve Brekke would be acting co-athletic directors. The news followed a weekend of speculation that Buning would be fired or would resign.

The 46-question survey asked coaches and staff whether they strongly agreed or strongly disagreed with a statement regarding the athletic director.


The surveys, which are not standard athletic department practice, were distributed by UND administration earlier this month. They had to be returned by Sept. 12.

The surveys, which were titled "review of the athletic director," were unsigned, so all responses are anonymous except for a check-off box that indicates the person's title.

Asked why the survey was done, UND's vice president of general administration, Phil Harmeson, said in a Saturday interview that he wanted to get a "scan of what's going on" in the department. Harmeson became Buning's boss in July.

Harmeson could not be reached for comment on the survey Wednesday.

"We need an athletic director who understands athletics," one head coach said in the comments' section of the survey. "Our current director does not understand athletics."

Another head coach said: "At this point in time, I have zero confidence and zero trust in our athletic director. In my opinion, the working environment is becoming worse and is extremely dysfunctional.

"I have major concerns about the athletic department's ability to make the move to D-I with our current leadership."

Forty-five employees returned surveys, including at least 13 head coaches. Forty-three athletic department employees answered the question on overall performance. Two gave an answer of "did not know" or offered no opinion.


Of the 22 surveys that included comments, the only comment with a positive tone came from an assistant coach. It read: "He is enthusiastic about Sioux athletics and this university. He is a great face for the athletic department. And can be seen at every home contest."

Some of the employees said Buning needs to stop doing pushups at Sioux football games, because the department is about athletes and not the athletic director.

Buning received higher marks on the question whether the athletic director demonstrates a strong commitment to the implementation of the move to Division I. He was given an average score of 4.7 out of 7. Coaches gave him a 4.9 out of 7 in the category. UND is in an exploratory year in its move to NCAA Division I. The school will become Division I in all sports beginning next fall.

In a question about effectiveness and efficiency in handling administrative functions, Buning was given an average rating of 2.36 out of 7. Forty-one of the 45 respondents answered the question. Head coaches gave Buning an average rating of 2.66 out of 7 in the category.

"Leadership begins with trust and loyalty, and the athletic director and his staff demonstrate neither," one department employee said in the survey.

Respondents were asked about their frequency of contact with Buning. Of 13 head coaches who responded, five said their contact with the athletic director was monthly or less frequent.

On the question of whether the athletic director demonstrates a working knowledge of the budget process, Buning received an average score of 3.2 out of 7 in the survey.

Buning has made some tough decisions regarding the budget. UND's athletic department closed out its last fiscal year "in the black," Harmeson said in a July interview, "for the first time in years."


UND coaches and athletic department staff members were notified of Buning's leave of absence by e-mail Monday afternoon. School officials have not released a timetable as to the length of Buning's leave, and they have not specified a reason for the sudden announcement.

UND's athletic director since July 1, 2005, Buning has not been available for comment.

Over the weekend, there was speculation that a change in athletic department leadership was about to take place. But Harmeson said Saturday that Buning was not fired.

Reach Fee at 780-1127, (800) 477-6572 ext. 127 or kfee@gfherald.com . Read his blog at www.areavoices.com/fee .

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