Coach Cunningham won games and changed lives for 32 years

By TIM BURT

University High School’s long time varsity football coach Mark Cunningham, who retired in January after 32 years, had many memories in his coaching career, including three league championships and 14 CIF playoff appearances.

But Cunningham, 67, said it was more than the games that stood out.

“It’s the relationships you develop over a four-year period, that’s really what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s getting to know each kid and learning about their personal lives and what makes them tick — and determining what’s the best way to motivate them, trying to get them to perform at their best, be it in practice, at games or in the classroom.”

Cunningham tries to instill life lessons.

“The first one is: Early is on time; on time is late,” he said. “And I basically only had one rule in football and that is, ‘Be where you are supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re supposed to be doing it.”

The players, including Daniel Dolan, a first team all-league running back, appeared to take Cunningham’s words to heart, calling him a coach who cared deeply about his players.

“He had a tremendous impact not only on my football career, but also academic and personal (life), almost as much as football,” Dolan said. “Coach Cunningham has really done a great job preparing me and my teammates and everybody who has come through the program for if they choose to play at the next level or whatever they want to do in life. They will have the values that have been instilled through the Uni football program from Coach Cunningham.”

Cunningham has had a chance to visit with many of his former players since he announced his retirement. Cunningham said he is proud of many of them, but one who stood out was running back Scott Pickett, who played at Uni from 1999 to 2001.

“The thing that made him different was he came to practice every day with a big smile on his face and he had such a great attitude,” Cunningham said. “He was always laughing and was a lot of fun to be around and it made coaching just that much more enjoyable.”

Cunningham said he may continue at University as an assistant football coach next season to help in the transition. But for now, he plans to ski and play golf.

A new head coach is expected to be named in April.