Beth Cunningham: 5 things to know about the new Missouri State Lady Bears head coach

Wyatt D. Wheeler
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri State announced Wednesday night that Beth Cunningham will become the ninth head coach in Lady Bears history.

Cunningham has a collegiate coaching career that has spanned over 20 years. She will come to Missouri State from Duke after previously serving as the legendary Muffet McGraw's associate head coach at Notre Dame from 2012-20.

Here are five things to know about the new Lady Bears coach:

Cunningham has successful head coaching experience

Prior to taking over as the associate head coach at Notre Dame, her alma mater, Cunningham became the winningest head coach in Virginia Commonwealth University history.

She spent her first year as an assistant (2001-02) and one as an associate head coach (2002-03) before nine years as the head coach starting in 2003-04.

 Virginia Commonwealth coach Beth Cunningham watches her team against North Carolina during the second half of an NCAA women's college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008.  North Carolina won 77-65. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

Cunningham led VCU to a 167-115 record with postseason appearances in each of her final five seasons. From 2008-12, VCU averaged better than 22 wins per year, including back-to-back 26-win seasons in 2008-09, and the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in 2009.

More:Beth Cunningham: 5 big questions the new Missouri State Lady Bears coach will need to answer

At VCU, she coached three WNBA draft picks, two All-American standouts, two CAA Players of the Year and 18 all-conference selections.

Cunningham departed VCU, by her own choice, to become the associate head coach at Notre Dame under her former head coach as a player.

"It's a chance I just couldn't turn down," Cunningham, a two-time honorable-mention All-American during her star-spangled career as a player under McGraw, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2012. "It's just such a special place — an amazing place, really. The older I get and the more I see and experience, the more I realize that there's really no place like it."

Coach Mox was on Cunningham's staff at VCU

As fate would have it, the outgoing Lady Bears coach learned under the incoming coach.

Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, who took a job at Virginia last week after three seasons in Springfield, was a young assistant under Cunningham at VCU.

More:Missouri State to name Beth Cunningham as the Lady Bears' next head coach

"Coach Mox" spent two seasons on Cunningham's staff from 2007-09. In those years, the Rams went 52-15 with a pair of 26-win seasons. The span also included VCU's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Cunningham learned from Muffet McGraw

Cunningham played for and coached under one of the greatest head coaches to step on a women's basketball sideline.

Cunningham played under McGraw and became the program's top scorer when her career came to an end. She scored 2,322 points and held the record until it was surpassed by Skylar Diggins. During her playing career, she set or tied 28 school records.

After departing VCU as head coach, she immediately was named McGraw's associate head coach. She molded Notre Dame's perimeter offense into one of the nation's best while setting 3-point accolades.

Notre Dame bench reacts to the team's play in an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame beat Boston College 104-58. From left, assistant coach Beth Cunningham, players Lindsay Allen,Jewell Loyd, Brianna Turner and Michaela Mabrey. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Working together, the Fighting Irish had seven-straight 30-win seasons with Notre Dame making the Final Four in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019 while winning the national title in 2019.

In 2018 and 2019, Notre Dame had two of the best offenses in college basketball history. The squad ranked second all-time in points and scoring average during the national championship year and fifth in field goal percentage. 

The Irish followed the 2018 year with a 2019 NCAA Tournament runner-up finish with the No. 1 scoring offense in the country at 88.6 points per game. The Irish posted the second-best shooting percentage and scoring margin.

She spent the last two years at Duke

Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Beth Cunningham gestures to her players during the second half in an NCAA college basketball against James Madison in the semifinals Colonial Athletic Association tournament in Upper Marlboro, Md., Saturday, March 12, 2011. James Madison beat Virginia Commonwealth University 67-57.   (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

After Notre Dame hired former player and Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Niele Ivey as head coach, Cunningham became one of the hottest commodities in women's basketball coaching.

Shortly after Kara Lawson was hired as the Blue Devils' head coach, she called Cunningham and asked her to join the staff. Lawson was a first-time head coach and needed the experience that Cunningham could provide.

Duke opted out of playing a 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and finished the year 3-1. It followed this past season with a 17-13 record and a second-round exit at the ACC Tournament.

She's coached many WNBA players

Cunningham's impressive resume doesn't come without many players who went on to play professionally at the highest level.

At VCU, Cunningham coached three WNBA picks and two All-Americans. Her notable pupils include Quanitra Hollingsworth, a ninth-overall pick in 2009, and Courtney Hurt, a 2012 third-round selection who was among the nation's leading rebounders.

At Notre Dame, she helped coach seven WNBA first-round selections. Those players include the likes of Arike Ogunbowale, Kayla McBride and Brianna Turner.

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.