Carson Cunningham's career story is a bit out of the ordinary, but the leadership of Carroll College (Montana) found it intriguing – and impressive – enough to believe in the former Purdue men's basketball player and name him as its men's basketball coach earlier this week.
“We are very excited that Carson has agreed to be our new head coach,” Saints Director of Athletics Bruce Parker said in a release. “He brings tremendous enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to our program.”
Cunningham is making the jump from high school (he has been the varsity boy's coach at his alma mater, Andrean High School, for five seasons) to the NAIA level, but given the fact that he has a proven track record of success – regardless of the field – Parker isn't concerned about that level of professional move.
“He was an outstanding player and is a rising star in the coaching profession,” Parker said. “His passion for the game is contagious and I have great confidence in his coaching and recruiting abilities.”
Cunningham's career path since he last dribbled up the court at Mackey Arena has been an impressive one. He played three seasons professionally (two in the CBA and one abroad), before entering the world of academia.
He has served as an instructor in the history department and the department of cinema and digital media at DePaul University in Chicago since 2006 after earning his bachelor's degree in history at Purdue in 2000. He later earned a Master of Arts in Modern American History (2001) and a PhD in History (2006), also at Purdue. Cunningham is also scheduled to complete his MBA at DePaul this spring.
"Carson brings with him a remarkable combination of excellent basketball and academic credentials,” Dr. Tom Evans, President of Carroll College, said.
Cunningham has also excelled in the realm of basketball, though, and ultimately needed to bring some credentials within the sport to have been selected from a candidate pool of 217 applicants.
The 59ers have won 43 of their last 50 games under Cunningham, as he turned around a program which had won just two games the season before he arrived at the school. Cunningham guided Andrean to four straight sectional titles and has improved its win totals for five years running.
This past season Andrean made it to the final four in Indiana's second biggest class (3A) and was ranked third in the state.
“My family and I have a deep appreciation for Carroll's values and its academic and athletic excellence,” Cunningham said. “We can't wait to become a part of the Helena community. The Carroll basketball program has a great tradition, and I look forward to adding to it.”
Cunningham cited his college coach, Gene Keady, as an impetus to his drive for success in all that he has pursued ever since he transferred to the Boilermaker program following a successful freshman season at Oregon State.
“My approach to coaching is rooted in the very things that (coach Keady) stressed while I played (at Purdue),” Cunningham said. “Make academics and upstanding behavior paramount, embrace the concept of personal responsibility and have a positive impact on the community.
“These types of values translate into the development of quality basketball players, who are willing to work. I firmly believe that the lessons I learned from Coach Keady are invaluable, and will serve me well at Carroll.”
The last time that Cunningham ventured west, he left Oregon State after a season. However, as a matured 36-year-old, he is embracing the adventure of a new home outside of the Midwest.
“My family and I are leaving a great state, in Indiana, and a great school, in Andrean,” Cunningham said. “But we cherish the opportunity to become a part of a world-class institution of higher-learning in wondrous Montana.”
Not only has Cunningham forayed into the world of academia and major college athletics, but surprisingly, he is also a published author.
He has written “American Hoops,” “Underbelly Hoops – Adventures in the CBA,” and “Before the Curse,” which is a collection of vintage stories about the Chicago Cubs during their glory years.
“We feel that we have hired a great fit for Carroll College,” Parker said. “A coach that will take our program back to the top of the Frontier Conference and the NAIA.”