Beth Cunningham, assistant women's basketball coach at Duke University, is set to be named new head coach of the Missouri State Lady Bears. (Design by Missouri State University athletics)

OPINION |

Missouri State Director of Athletics Kyle Moats and school president Clif Smart have been on a roll when it comes to hiring women’s basketball coaches, first with Kellie Harper and then Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.

Both took the Lady Bears to Missouri Valley Conference Championships and impressive NCAA Tournament runs. What about three straight home-run hires?

On the surface, it appears that Beth Cunningham checks all the boxes as Missouri State’s new head women’s basketball coach. Cunningham, arriving from Duke where she spent the last two seasons as an assistant, will be introduced at 10 a.m. Thursday during a news conference at Plaster Student Union’s Ballroom East.

Smart said after Agugua-Hamilton left on March 21, to become head coach in Virginia, that the goal was to find someone with either head-coaching experience or who has served as a top assistant at a major-conference level. 

With Cunningham, Missouri State gets both of those things. 

A former player at Notre Dame (1993-97) where the program reached the Final Four her senior season, Cunningham has an impressive 20 seasons in coaching at some storied programs. 

Beth Cunningham, assistant women’s basketball coach at Duke University, is set to be named new head coach of the Missouri State Lady Bears. (Photo: Duke University athletics department)

Prior to the last two seasons at Duke on Kara Lawson’s staff, Cunningham spent eight seasons as associate head coach at Notre Dame for the iconic Muffet McGraw. During that stretch, Notre Dame compiled a 244-19 record with seven straight 30-win seasons, five Final Fours and a national championship in 2018.

Perhaps even better, Cunningham spent nine seasons prior to her return to Notre Dame as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. There is no substitute for proven head-coaching experience and Cunningham was a proven winner at VCU, compiled a 167-115 record with postseason appearances her final five seasons.

From 2008-12, VCU averaged just over 22 wins per season, including back-to-back 26-win seasons in 2008 and ‘09, with the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in ‘09.

Two of her VCU players were WNBA draft selections and 18 of her players were all-conference selections during her time there.

Taking her experience as a head coach at a level similar to Missouri State’s and combining it with her time working for McGraw at Notre Dame and Lawson at Duke, plus her excellence as a player in both college and three seasons professionally?

Time will tell, but this looks like another outstanding hire for a program that exudes excellence. 

Cunningham, a native of Bloomington, Indiana, will become the ninth head coach in program history. She graduated from Notre Dame in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the Mendoza College of Business before earning her Master’s in Sports Leadership from VCU in 2003.

Cunningham and her husband, Dan, are parents of three daughters (Margaret, Carly; and Gretchen) and one son (Danny). 

Her contract, pending approval by the Missouri State Board of Governors, is for five years with a base salary of $320,000. 

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton