TROY, Ala. – A 23-year coaching veteran and nationally recognized assistant coach, Phil Cunningham was named the men’s basketball head coach at Troy University by Athletics Director John Hartwell at a press conference Tuesday in Troy’s state-of-the-art Trojan Arena.
Cunningham, who becomes the sixth head coach in Troy history, was recently named one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the NCAA by Rivals.com and was recognized by The Hoop Scoop recruiting publication as one of the top NCAA Division I men's basketball assistant coaches.
Cunningham takes over the Troy program after Don Maestri announced his retirement on March 9 following 31 seasons and 500 wins as the head coach of the Trojans.
The Campbellsville, Ky., native spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach at Mississippi State before joining the staff at Western Kentucky last season. Cunningham’s teams at Mississippi State and Western Kentucky made 11 postseason appearances in 13 years, including seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and all 12 of the recruiting classes he was involved with at Mississippi State were nationally recognized.
On the court, Cunningham’s daily contributions to the Bulldog basketball program resulted in Mississippi State’s string of six NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years. He worked primarily with the Bulldog guards and had a heavy hand in the program’s recruiting efforts, helping land players such as Jarvis Varnado, Jamont Gordon, Arnett Moultrie and also Monta Ellis, who wound up going directly to the NBA out of high school after signing with Mississippi State.
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.
Before his tenure at Mississippi State, Cunningham spent five seasons as an assistant coach under legendary head coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell at James Madison and Georgia State. Hartwell was an associate athletic director at Georgia State and served as the color analyst for men’s basketball on the Georgia State Radio Network during Cunningham’s tenure with the Panthers.
Cunningham, who was promoted to Driesell’s associate head coach his final two seasons at GSU, was instrumental in helping transform the Panthers 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 Driesell at James Madison University.
Cunningham’s 18-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, Cunningham 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.
Cunningham began his coaching career during the 1990-91 season as an assistant coach on his father’s staff at Campbellsville University after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He helped lead the Tigers to the District 32 championship and an appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
He then went to Mississippi State as a graduate assistant for the 1991-92 season, where he earned a master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration.
During his prep athletic career at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville, Ky., Cunningham was an all-state honorable mention backcourt performer in addition to excelling on the diamond as a shortstop.
After graduating from Taylor County, Cunningham began his collegiate playing career at Kentucky Wesleyan and won a NCAA Division II National Championship in 1987. 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 has one daughter, Shelby (12).
Phil Cunningham Coaching Career
Campbellsville (Ky.) College, assistant coach, 1990-91
Mississippi State, graduate assistant, 1991-92
Sue Bennett College, head coach, 1992-95
James Madison, assistant coach, 1995-97
Georgia State, assistant coach, 1997-98
Georgia State, associate head coach, 1998-2000
Mississippi State, assistant coach, 2000-12
Western Kentucky, assistant coach, 2012-13
Troy, head coach, 2013-14