Feb. 15, 2013
One way to know the importance of a person is to find out if they've got a nickname.
John Cunningham, who has been an employee at the University of San Diego since 1962, has earned his share. He is "J.C." to USD colleagues and student-athletes. He's "The Lid" to players from the first baseball team he coached in 1964. He has a car license plate with "JC 33" on it for his initials and uniform number, but it has also drawn interest from California drivers with deep religious faith.
"People still call the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] to ask about it because they want it whenever I decide to give it up," he said.
Don't count on it anytime soon. Cunningham, 75, maintains his health by shooting his age on the golf course. He enjoys commuting from his Escondido home to the Linda Vista campus where he then transports Torero sports teams by bus to the airport or to nearby away games.
"I've been driving a bus longer than I've been coaching," quipped Cunningham, who first drove buses during his two-year Army stint.
In both instances, though, it's been quite a ride for Cunningham.
A native San Diegan, Cunningham attended St. Augustine High and was a basketball and baseball standout at the University of San Francisco (USF). Following his military service and a brief stint in the Baltimore Orioles' organization, USD Athletics Director Phil Woolpert, who had been Cunningham's basketball coach at USF, hired Cunningham.
He was USD's freshman basketball head coach, varsity assistant and intramurals director, but in 1964 he replaced Mike Morrow as baseball coach. Cunningham led the Toreros for 35 years (1964-98), won 843 games, had 16 winning seasons, reached the Division II NCAA Regionals four times and its College World Series in 1971 and 1978. He oversaw USD's transition to Division I and, in 1985, the West Coast Conference. He was coach of the year three times, including twice in the WCC.
When he took over, the program didn't have an on-campus field and players carpooled to practices and games until he found a bus to drive the team. Cunningham instilled discipline and organization, hence "The Lid" nickname.
"I asked John Baumgarten, who was our team captain in 1964, about the nickname years later and he said it was `because you put the lid on all the shenanigans. You established order."
Cunningham recruited players who were committed to the important balance of being a strong student-athlete. He had another mantra that was equally important: "If you come here, you'll get an opportunity to play, but once you did, it was up to you. I expected players to get better each year. You can have a one-year experience four times or you can have a four-year experience. There's a difference."
The Toreros eventually got their stadium -- in 1988 the field was named Cunningham Stadium -- and it helped with recruiting and travel.
Cunningham coached hundreds of talented players and was assisted by valuable part-time assistants Jake Molina and former player Glenn Godwin for 14 of his 35 years. Forty-seven Toreros signed professional contracts. Eight -- John Wathan, Kerry Dineen, Bill Pinkham, Jeff Grotewold, Mike Saipe, Brady Clark, Bart Miadich and Dan Giese -- reached the major leagues.
His players made their mark on the field -- several still hold school records in various categories -- and players, such as Steve Bogard, with intangible leadership qualities.
"He played on one of our poorest teams, record wise (1985), and I was ready to hang it up," Cunningham recalled, "but players like Steve made me want to coach longer. He'd say, `Coach, we're playing baseball; we get to play a great game. How is that a bad thing?' He was right."
Cunningham's dedication to baseball -- he coached in the California Collegiate League and served as the San Diego Padres' official scorer -- earned him enshrinement USD's Chet and Marguerite Pagni Family Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003 and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991. The San Diego Baseball Historical Society named him, along with Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn and others, as one of the 25 most influential people in San Diego baseball.
Cunningham said he cherishes the people he's met and has worked with upon entering his 51st year at the university. Most importantly, he has been a friend and mentor to not only Torero baseball players, but USD staff and administrators. On Saturday there will be a special pregame dedication to honor him for his years of service with the naming of Cunningham Field.
"I wouldn't be here as long as I have been had I not enjoyed working here, the atmosphere and the quality and concern of the people I've worked with, including administrators, players and maintenance people."
The feeling is mutual for those who know "J.C."
-- Ryan T. Blystone
Baseball: Day in the Life with Jay Schuyler
The real-life baseball experience
Inside look at WCC competition
Men's Tennis: Sweep
San Diego defeat Pepperdine 4-0
Softball: The Win
Toreros defeat Saint Mary's in weekend series
Men's Basketball: Tuber
Coach Scholl introduces "Tuber" - the on campus Torero Uber
Men's Basketball: Barista Scholl
Coach Scholl gets students ready for class by helping out at Aromas Cafe
Football: Pro Day
Toreros submit their resumes to the NFL scouts
Men's Basketball: Portland State Win
Toreros move on to next round in CIT
Football 2018: Spring Game
Toreros play spring football game for family and friends
Baseball: Toreros vs. Aztecs
USD take on cross-town rival SDSU
Men's Basketball: Post Season Run
USD vs. Hartford highlights
Women's Basketball: WCC Championship Game
Toreros end the 2018 season against Gonzaga in the WCC finals.
Women's Basketball: WCC Semifinals
Women's win send them to the championship game
Men's Basketball: WCC Quarterfinals
Toreros close out 2018 season against BYU
Men's Basketball: "Off Day"
Toreros prepare for the WCC quarterfinals against BYU
Women's Basketball: WCC Quarterfinal Highlights
USD defeats BYU in quarterfinal of WCC Tournament
Women's Basketball: Day in the Life with Myah Pace
Freshman guard knows how to prep for a win
Women's Basketball: Vegas Bound
Toreros travel to Vegas for the WCC Tournament
Baseball: Defeating No. 4 Arkansas
Toreros edge out top five team
Men's Basketball: Rock the House
Toreros played No. 6 Gonzaga in a fight to the last minute
Men's Basketball: Day in the Life
Guard Olin Carter III knows the games starts long before tip-off
Rowing, tennis, basketball and baseball, a winning day in the books
Baseball: For the Love of the Game
Baseball celebrates 60 years
Women's Basketball: Women in Sports Day
Julie Foudy spoke to student-athletes and guests for National Women in Sports Day
Men's Basketball: At LMU
Men's basketball on the road
Women's Rowing: Day in the Life
Senior Lizzie Bader shows how three-a-day practices are done
Men's Basketball: Youth Basketball Clinic
Toreros lead clinic in local community
Men's Rowing: Winter Camp 2018
There are plenty perks to being the early bird
60 Years of USD Baseball
Milestones on the road to Omaha
USD Honors Local Military Members
Toreros showed their support and hosted local military members at the men's basketball game
USD Athletes Sing "Santa's Coming to Town"
Toreros show their talent out of uniform
Basketball: City Championship
Toreros play SDSU Thursday night at 8
Football: Week Fourteen
Football preps for second round of playoffs at NDSU
Football: NAU From the Sidelines
Toreros win in first round of playoffs at NAU
Football: Week Thirteen
Football travels to NAU for the first round of the FCS Playoffs
A day to give to Torero Athletics
Football: Week Twelve
Toreros gear up for last game of conference play
Football: Week Eleven
Toreros prep for game day
Torero Timeout with Summer Mason
USD junior women's soccer player takes a timeout during a study break
On Saturday We Dominate
Big wins for both USD Football and USD Volleyball Saturday afternoon
Torero Timeout with Henry Lander
Men's soccer sophomore Henry Lander takes a Timeout between classes
Football: Week Ten
Toreros gear up for home game against Drake
Men's and women's basketball teamed up to host a Halloween event
Football: Week Nine
Big day in the weight room for the Toreros
Seamus McFadden's Legacy
39 years in review by former players and coaches
Alumni, staff and the San Diego community gathered to celebrate Men's Soccer Head Coach Seamus McFadden
Sixth Man Night: The Event
Recap video of the October 12 fundraiser event
Women's Basketball: WCC Hoops Tip-Off
Coach Fisher and Maya Hood attend media day in Las Vegas
Men's Basketball: New Heights
Men's basketball celebrates the third era of the program
Alumni and family gathered together for an eventful Homecoming weekend
Torero Timeout with Kristen Gengenbacher
Take a Timeout with the senior setter at her house in South Mission Beach
Football: Week Seven
Football preps for this Saturday's Homecoming game
Torero Timeout with Jonathan Petersen
USD Football's Petersen strolls through Belmont Park during his bye week
USD Basketball: Practice No. 1
Check out what practice looks like for the Torero ballers
Football: Week Five
Toreros prep for big game against Dayton
Football: FaceTime with Lion's Jamal Agnew
USD Head Coach Dale Lindsey congratulates Torero alum Agnew on his first NFL touchdown
Football: Brian Fogarty PFL Classic
From tailgates to touchdowns, we got it all
Football: Week Four
Hard work follows these Toreros on and off the field
Cross Country: USD Invite
Missed Saturday's race? Don't stress, we have it right here
Football: Week Three
Sights and sounds of USD Football at work
USD Invite: Take a Lap
Men's and women's cross country host the USD Invite: the only home race for the Toreros
Football: Week Two
Football hard at work for their first away game at UC Davis
Three Games - One Day
Ole Weekend was one to remember for USD Athletics
Football: Week One
Toreros preps for their home opener against Western New Mexico
2017 Football Season Preview
Head Coach Dale Lindsey and Senior Ray Clark discuss upcoming season
USD Athletics Highlight Video 2016-17
Don't miss the best highlights from this past year in USD Athletics