Illustration by Justin Wagler

OPINION |

The idea began after a recent phone conversation with retired Missouri State women’s basketball coaching legend Cheryl Burnett. It had been years since I caught up with Cheryl and it brought back great memories.

Burnett is among the greatest coaches to lead a team in Springfield’s sports history. Knowing how everyone loves lists — and how people love to express opinions on social media — a thought came to mind.

If we could erect a tall, fake mountain in downtown Springfield — say overlooking the outfield at Hammons Field, just beyond the train tracks — whose faces would adorn the Mount Rushmore of Springfield Coaches?

Posing the question on Twitter elicited dozens of responses. This is clearly a question that, like most “best-of” or “greatest-ever” sports lists, does not have wrong answers. Sports is all about having opinions. Your list is just as valid as mine.

We are blessed to have a tremendous history of outstanding coaches in the Springfield area. If you didn’t before, share your Mount Rushmore via Twitter to @LyndalScranton and @sgfcitizen with the hashtag #SGFcoaches.

That said, let’s have some fun and take a look at my Mount Rushmore of Springfield Coaches and begin with a disclaimer. Retired Missouri State Director of Athletics Bill Rowe coached baseball for nearly 20 years, but I’m going to keep him on a sports administrator’s list and not make him eligible for the coaching list.

Same for the late Dr. Mary Jo Wynn, who spent 41 years at Missouri State including a quarter century as the Senior Women’s Athletics Administrator. Wynn blazed a trail for women in athletics to lay the groundwork for so many successful women’s teams at the school. 

Rowe and Wynn would be the athletic directors for the coaches on the Mount Rushmore list. 

Along with leading the Missouri State Lady Bears to a pair of Final Four appearances, Coach Cheryl Burnett helped establish women’s basketball as a hot ticket and a way of life in Springfield. (Photo courtesy Missouri State athletics)

Let’s begin with the coach that inspired this idea. Cheryl Burnett is a slam-dunk member of Springfield’s all-time coaching greats. In 15 seasons at Missouri State, she led the Lady Bears to a 319-136 record, Final Fours in 1992 and 2001, plus 10 NCAA Tournaments and nine conference championships.

Beyond the numbers, Burnett helped transform women’s basketball in Springfield and the region into the hottest ticket around and something cool for kids and adults of both genders. To this day, you hear the words “Lady Bears” and you think of Missouri State women’s basketball and what Burnett built.

Charlie Spoonhour guided the Missouri State men’s basketball program into the NCAA Tournament five times in his nine seasons. (Photo courtesy Missouri State athletics)

My second face on the Mount Rushmore of Springfield Coaches had an office right down the hall from Burnett in Hammons Student Center. The late, great Charlie Spoonhour was the right coach at the perfect time to turn Missouri State into a legitimate Division I basketball program.

Hired by Rowe in 1983, Spoonhour had an “aw shucks” down-home public persona, but was smart as a whip — especially while running a basketball practice and making in-game adjustments. The Bears were 191-81 in his nine seasons, with five NCAA Tournaments and two NITs.

Burnett recalled watching Spoonhour’s teams practice almost daily. 

“I was down there watching Spoon put on a clinic every day in practice,” she said. “Everybody talks about Spoon being a defensive genius. Well, I thought he was an offensive genius. I learned things from Spoon offensively that we implemented until the last day I coached.”

Keith Guttin entered his 40th season in 2022 as the third-winningest active coach in Division I college baseball. Here he is as MSU recorded another victory March 4, 2022, vs. Indiana. (Photo by Kevin White/Missouri State University Creative Services)

My next Mount Rushmore member also began his coaching stint at Missouri State in 1983 and he’s still going. Baseball coach Keith Guttin is in his 40th season as Bears’ head coach and began the 2022 season third among active DI coaches with 1,309 victories.

During Guttin’s tenure, the Bears have gone to 11 NCAA Tournaments, including the 2003 College World Series, and won 19 regular-season or conference-tournament titles. No coach has produced more professional players, with 130 Bears under Guttin signing pro contracts and 20 reaching the major leagues.

Dick Birmingham made winning baseball a way of life during a lengthy career as Hillcrest High School’s baseball coach from 1960-84. (Photo courtesy Hillcrest High School)

For the final member of my Mount Rushmore of Springfield Coaches, I go to the high school level and select Dick Birmingham, the late baseball coach who made his mark on the north side of Springfield — and later internationally.

Birmingham coached Hillcrest from 1960-84, compiling a 309-138 record that included the 1979 state championship and two other state semifinal appearances. He also coached the Hillcrest American Legion program from 1960-74 to a 484-242 record with state titles in 1970 and ‘71 and runner-up finishes in 1972 and ‘73.

After retiring, Birmingham taught baseball camps across the country and internationally. There is no telling how many thousands of youngsters learned how to properly swing a bat or field a ground ball, let alone how to compete, from Birmingham. 

So I wouldn’t be alone in this endeavor, I reached out to some other long-time Springfield media members, all in the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame, and asked for their lists:

Art Hains

Art Hains, voice of Missouri State athletics: Charlie Spoonhour, Cheryl Burnett, Keith Guttin and Bill Thomas (Bears basketball coach 1964-80).

“Others to be considered would be Jesse Branch, Dick Birmingham, Jon Leamy, Jack Steck, Steve Hesser, Bill Harding and Steve Jenkins,” Hains said.

Ned Reynolds

Ned Reynolds, host of Sports Reporters on JOCK 96.9 and 99.9 FM and retired sports director of KYTV: Charlie Spoonhour, Cheryl Burnett, Keith Guttin, Bill Thomas and “bonus choice” Dick Birmingham.

“I know that’s one extra, but there are always options,” Reynolds said.

Tom Mast

Tom Mast, retired sports anchor at KOLR and KSPR: Andy McDonald (Missouri State football coach 1925-50), Cheryl Burnett, Arthur Briggs (football, basketball, baseball and track coach at Missouri State 1912-33) and Dick Birmingham. 

Mast went on to break it down by sport. “McDonald, Burnett, Spoonhour and Sue Schuble (basketball), Briggs and Jim Pearson (football), Birmingham and Guttin (baseball), Jim Vaughn (track and field), Brian Reynolds (swimming) and Leamy (soccer).” 

Dan Lucy

Dan Lucy, sports director at KOLR: Charlie Spoonhour, Cheryl Burnett, Molly Miller (Drury women’s basketball coach 2014-20) and Steve Frank (retired Strafford girls’ basketball coach). 

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