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Troy hires Cunningham as head coach

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Long-time assistant lands first D-1 top job

By Bobby Brockman

 

Former Taylor County High School and Campbellsville University basketball player Phil Cunningham was announced as the new men’s head coach at Troy (Ala.) University on Tuesday.
“I finally caught a break in this business,” Cunningham said by phone on Monday night. “I’m going to be named the head coach at Troy tomorrow.”
Cunningham, an assistant this past season at Western Kentucky University after 12 seasons at Mississippi State, succeeds Don Maestri, who retired on March 10 after 31 seasons at the Trojan helm. Troy State is in the Sun Belt Conference, currently the same as WKU.
Cunningham, who also was an assistant at James Madison and Georgia State under Lefty Driesell, started his coaching career under his father, the late Lou Cunningham at Campbellsville University. (His mother, retired Taylor County school teacher, Barbara, still resides in Taylor County.)
Troy University, with an enrollment of nearly 30,000 on all its campuses, will be coming off three consecutive losing seasons. However, Maestri did win 500 games with his run-and-gun style (Troy beat DeVry, Ga. 258-141 on Jan. 12) after being an SEC assistant.
The home for the basketball teams is the newly-built 6,000-seat Trojan Arena, 5,600 of which are chair-back seats. There are also several VIP suites and boxes. Under the main court sits 10,000 square feet of basketball practice courts.

Troy University AD John Hartwell’s comments on Phil Cunningham
“First of all, we wanted a winner who had experienced winning at a very high level and a person of character and integrity. Certainly winning is important,  at the end of the game we want Troy to have more points on the scoreboard, but somebody outside of this arena who represents us well and certainly as I’ve talked to so many people in higher education, when you mention Phil Cunningham you hear hard work and character.
Certainly, X’s and O’s are important, but you’ve got to have players. Phil has a track record for being one of the best recruiters in the nation. He’s recruited for Lefty Driesell and Rick Stansbury, some of the best in the business. I got to talk to Jarvis Varnardo or Arnett Moultrie, they talk about this person being one of the primary reasons they attended Mississippi State.
A teacher, Phil comes from a long history of coaches and teachers. His mom was a teacher and his dad was a legendary coach at a NAIA school in Kentucky.
Finally, we wanted someone that fit Troy. As we looked at candidates that spanned assistant coaches and head coaches from across the nation, we wanted someone who fit a part of the Troy family. As I heard Phil talk to the team at the 7 a.m. meeting this morning, he said we will not have any ‘me’ in this team, we will have ‘we’. That’s what Troy is about, no one is bigger than Troy itself. I’m very excited about the future of Troy men’s basketball and it being in the hands of Coach Phil Cunningham.”

What’s being said about Cunningham’s hiring
“I am very happy for Phil to have the opportunity to become a head coach. He did a great job on our staff this season, and having known him for many years I know that he will do a great job at Troy. Being a head coach is something that almost every assistant coach dreams about, and I am pleased that Phil is getting the chance.”
— WKU’s Ray Harper
“When I hired him at JMU, I was really impressed with his knowledge of the game. I hired him and he really did a great job for me there.  When I left and went to Georgia State, he was the first guy I hired on my new staff. He helped me build that program up, and even though he had left, we sent him a ring when we won the conference championship the next season. He knows basketball. He knows how to recruit. He’s an excellent teacher. Troy got a steal, he’s terrific. I’m surprised nobody has hired him before now.”
Lefty Driesell
“John Hartwell deserves a lot of credit for going out and hiring one of the best young assistant coaches in the country. There is no question he will do a terrific job. Phil is very versed and has a tremendous ability to recruit. He lives and breathes basketball and there is no question that he is a tireless worker. He has a great ability to evaluate and develop relationships with young men and will have the ability to figure out which kids will fit in best at Troy and help him win championships.”
Former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury

“Wow! Long time coming. He deserves it.”
— Campbellsville University’s Keith Adkins

“Good guys win. Man, he’s so deserving.”
— Montgomery County and former Georgetown coach Happy Osborne

“That is awesome! He deserves it.”
— EKU assistant Austin Newton

“Well-deserved.”
— Taylor County head coach Jeff Kidder

“Awesome! It’s about time.”
— Campbellsville High assistant John Wheat