BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Phil Cunningham, a 20-year veteran of the collegiate coaching ranks and native Kentuckian, will join the WKU men's basketball coaching staff as an assistant in 2012-13, Hilltopper head coach Ray Harper announced Tuesday. Cunningham arrives on the Hill after spending 12 seasons as a nationally-recognized assistant coach as Mississippi State University.
The Campbellsville, Ky., native attended Taylor County High School and then played two collegiate seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College before transferring to Campbellsville College to continue his playing career under his father, the legendary Lou Cunningham. Harper was an assistant coach at Kentucky Wesleyan while Cunningham played for the Panthers, and both were members of the 1987 NCAA Division II national championship team.
"Coach Cunningham has a wealth of high-level experience, and he will be a great addition to our staff," Harper said. "I have known him for quite some time dating back to our days at Kentucky Wesleyan, and he has a passion for coaching that the players really relate to. Coach Cunningham is a perfect fit for our program and will complement the current staff extremely well."
"I am very excited about the opportunity to work at Western Kentucky University for Coach Harper," Cunningham said. "I have known Coach Harper since I was a player in college and he was an assistant coach, and I have followed his career closely. I really respect what he has been able to do as a head coach, and I am looking forward to working with him. I am from Taylor County High School in Campbellsville, and when you are from Taylor County you understand and respect the tradition of WKU basketball because that is where Clem Haskins went to high school. I am really excited about being a part of this great tradition."
While at Mississippi State Cunningham worked primarily with the Bulldog guards, and he had a heavy hand in the program’s recruiting efforts. All 12 recruiting classes Cunningham was involved with at Mississippi State were nationally recognized, and he was recently tabbed by Rivals.com as one of the nation's top 25 assistant coaches. Cunningham was also previously recognized by The Hoop Scoop recruiting publication as one of the top NCAA Division I men's basketball assistant coaches.
On the court, Cunningham’s daily contributions to the Bulldog basketball program resulted in Mississippi State’s recent string of six NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years.
Cunningham was a part of five Southeastern Conference Western Division crowns, one overall conference championship and two conference tournament titles in his final nine seasons at Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs averaged over 20 wins per season since he joined the staff before the 2000-01 season.
Having earned his master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration from Mississippi State while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the 1991-92 season, Cunningham returned Starkville in 2000 after spending the previous three seasons on Charles “Lefty” Driesell’s staff at Georgia State, including the last two as Georgia State’s associate head coach. Cunningham was instrumental in helping transform the Panthers into what developed into one of the winningest basketball programs in the Atlantic Sun Conference. His recruiting efforts at Georgia State proved pivotal in the Panthers landing successive conference player of the year recipients Thomas Terrell and Shernard Long.
Prior to moving to Georgia State with Driesell in 1997, Cunningham spent the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons as an assistant coach on the staff of the ‘Lefthander’ at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Cunningham’s 17-year stint as an NCAA Division I assistant coach was preceded by a three-year stay as head basketball coach at Sue Bennett College in London, Ky.
Taking over a former junior college program making the jump to four-year competition in the NAIA, he paced Sue Bennett to 48 victories during his three seasons at the helm of the Dragons, including postseason tournament appearances during each of the school’s first two years of postseason eligibility status.
During his prep athletic career at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville, Cunningham was an all-state honorable mention backcourt performer in addition to excelling on the diamond as a standout shortstop.
After graduating from Taylor County, Cunningham began his collegiate playing career at Kentucky Wesleyan with Harper guiding him as an assistant coach. Citing a desire to play for his highly-respected father, Cunningham subsequently transferred to Campbellsville College, now Campbellsville University, where he finished his career ranked among the school’s all-time leaders in career assists.
Cunningham spent the 1990-91 campaign as an assistant coach on his father’s staff after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and he helped lead the Tigers to the District 32 championship and an appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
Cunningham has one daughter, Shelby.
Campbellsville (Ky.) College, assistant coach, 1991
Mississippi State, graduate assistant, 1992
Sue Bennett College, head coach, 1993-95
James Madison, assistant coach, 1996-97
Georgia State, assistant coach, 1998
Georgia State, associate head coach, 1999-2000
Mississippi State, assistant coach, 2001-12
WKU, assistant coach, 2013-present