MIDLAND, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – After a 15-year run at Plano Prestonwood that included a 129-44 record and four state titles, Chris Cunningham looked like he was done coaching.

While at Prestonwood, Cunningham held the dual role of Athletic Director and Football Head Coach. With the school opening a second campus, the decision was made to divide the roles. A new coach was hired while Cunningham became just the Athletic Director, ending his coaching days.

But a phone call last year changed that.

“Late spring [2022], I got a call from Midland Christian and they asked me if I would be interested and I told them absolutely I’d love to talk to them,” said Cunningham.

“They asked me what I knew about Midland and of course we had been playing Midland Christian through the years when I was at Prestonwood and I always had a lot of respect for the program. So it was definitely something, when I got that call, that my wife and I decided this is going to be something exciting to look into and we’ll see where God takes us.”

“We obviously didn’t know yet what we’d be getting, but the more you start to talk to people, every single person that’s known him or who played for him or coached with him or coached against him… everybody just had nothing but the most positive things to say,” said Midland Christian Athletic Director Chris Ryburn. “That’s really proved to be true.”

After Midland Christian reached out in mid-April, Cunningham went through multiple interviews with Ryburn and the school’s search committee before being introduced as the new coach in May 2022.

“The thing that stood out in my mind was how welcome I was made to feel and just how much support I had here from the get-go,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham took over a program following Greg McClendon, who resigned from the top job after 24 years, and a team that had just been to the state title game.

His first months with the Mustangs were critical.

“If you’re wise you look at a program like this and you figure out, where are some things where change can take place immediately, where are some things where that might take some time, and what are some things that you just don’t mess with that are strong, ingrained traditions that make this a special place,” said Cunningham when asked about implementing changes early in his tenure.

“I don’t think you come in from day one and figure all of that out. It takes some time. A year into it, I feel much more comfortable with a lot of things that we’re doing that I want to do, but that was a process.”

The Mustangs won their 2022 opener before losing three in a row including their home opener.

“We didn’t execute very well, we didn’t play very well in some of those [games]. But at the same time, I saw a lot of growth in who we were becoming as a program, where we were going,” said Cunningham about the season’s first month.

“Even though it hurt to lose, it always does, I never felt distraught, we never panicked. I never felt like there was a point in the season where we weren’t getting better, weren’t improving.”

After a 1-3 start, Midland Christian ended the regular season winning four of their last five games finishing the regular season 5-4 and 3-1 in district.

“You come to a point where the things that you’re working on, the things that you’re building on start to become second nature, start to become who you are,” said Cunningham on the season’s turnaround.

“I felt like that was what started to happen with us. We never came out of a game without finding something that we could build on.”

The Mustangs won their first-round playoff game at home beating Tyler Grace Community 37-7 before losing 28-27 to district rival Fort Worth Christian in the second round.

Along the way, Cunningham got his team to buy in through the wins, but also how he treated his players.

“I love that dude he’s great. He’s just like a grandpa to us,” said rising senior quarterback and safety Colten Newsom. “He loves every single one of us and treats us all the same. It’s great. He stepped in an did a great job at it.”

“He showed that he was a good man, good godly man. I feel like that kind of gave us our respect, but him just pouring into us being personal with us, I feel like that’s really helped us gain his trust,” said rising senior lineman Fikky Esan. “We’ve been ready to play for him, we were ready to play for him last year, but this year I’d run through a brick wall for that man.”

“I chalk up the success that we had this season to them, to the leadership of the team that we had, the team that was here when I got here,” said Cunningham.

“It’s a credit to those young men that held things together when a lot of things were kind of frazzled and a lot of things were in turmoil and those young men, they kept it together.”

One of the biggest changes Cunningham has made in his first year was spring football. The Mustangs practiced for about three weeks leading up their inaugural spring game which they held after their last day of school last Thursday.

“There’s things that you just can’t find out, there’s looks that you just can’t get any other way than to be in pads,” said Cunningham on why he brought spring football to Midland Christian. “TAPPS gives us an opportunity to have 14 practices in three weeks. It doesn’t cost us anything in the fall the way it does with the UIL schools.”

So how does Cunningham know he’s moving the program in the right direction?

“In the season to come, we’ll get a barometer on the kind of progress we’re making,” said Cunningham. “But, this can sometimes be cliché but it’s so true, but I don’t know that we ever see completely how much progress we’ve made until 15, 20 years down the line when I see what kind of husbands, what kind of co-workers, what kind of fathers these young men become.”

“That’s when we get to see the kind of progress we made in this time that we’ve been here.”