Changing of the guardPublished 11:00pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Cunningham now in cardinal, set to take over Trojan basketball
Wearing a cardinal cap fresh out of the box, Phil Cunningham was introduced as the men’s basketball coach at Troy University on Tuesday during a press conference at Trojan Arena.
Troy Athletic Director John Hartwell was all smiles as he called Cunningham to take the podium located on the court named for Don Maestri, who retired 17 days ago.
“We were looking for several things in a new coach,” Hartwell said. “We feel like we have found a guy with all of the characteristics we were looking for.”
Cunningham’s father was a coach at the NAIA level for 25 years and has a long line of teachers in the family.
“When I was doing my research on the history of Troy, it stood out that the university started as a college for teachers,” Cunningham said. “That’s what coaches are, teachers.”
Cunningham comes to Troy from Western Kentucky were he served as an assistant coach last season. Prior to joining the staff in Bowling Green, Ky., Cunningham was an assistant on Rick Stanbury’s staff at Mississippi State for 12 seasons. During that time, the Bulldogs made NCAA Tournament appearances six times and went to the NIT Tournament four times.
Troy men’s basketball guard Dianate Jethro said he played against Western Kentucky University this season and Mississippi State last season when Cunningham was at both schools. Jethro shared that he could see “toughness and togetherness” reflected in those teams.
“The number one thing he preached to us [this morning] is togetherness,” Jethro said, noting that he looked forward to playing on the same side of the court at Cunningham next season.
On the court, Cunningham has been a part of five SEC Conference Western Division titles. Before his time at Mississippi State, Cunningham spent five seasons as an assistant coach under legendary head coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell at James Madison and Georgia State.
Cunningham, who becomes the sixth head coach in Troy history, is known as a solid recruiter and helped draw some big names to Starkville. Bulldog stars like Jarvis Varnardo (three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year) and Arnett Moultrie (Howell Trophy Award winner) were both Cunningham recruits.
“The main thing I took away from talking with (Cunningham’s) former players is the fact that they came in knowing that he was there to help them and look after them,” Hartwell said.
Cunningham gave some insight into his approach as a recruiter.
“We are looking for guys that want to graduate, work hard and get better,” Cunningham said. “You can’t succeed at anything if you don’t go to work. I like up-tempo basketball, man-to-man defense but what I like most is togetherness.”
Cunningham replaces Don Maestri on the Troy bench. Maestri served as Troy’s head coach for 31 seasons winning 500 games.
Cunningham’s contract is a four-year deal worth $270,000 per year.
Troy reached the 20-win plateau eight times during Maestri’s career and won seven conference titles.
“Coach Maestri has always been a mentor for me,” Cunningham said. “He treated me as an assistant coach the same as he did any head coach, with humility and respect.”
Maestri said he’s thought highly of Cunningham for quite some time.
One member of Maestri’s staff will be retained. Ben Fletcher has served as a Troy assistant coach for the past eight seasons.
“Ben knows how to sell Troy,” said Cunningham. “He knows what Troy is all about.”
While there is no set timetable, Cunningham said he was eager to get a full staff in place and begin the recruiting process.