Woody Hunt Named 2020 Honoree of Fred Russell Distinguished American Award
By Mike Organ, The Tennessean and Middle Tennessee Chapter Board Member
Woody Hunt already is a coaching legend. As the longtime baseball coach at Cumberland University, Woody built the Phoenix program into a national power early in his career.
He has won three national championships (2004, 2010, 2014) and had two runner-up finishes (1995, 2006) while compiling a staggering 1,599-739-5 overall record heading into the 2020 campaign. So, Woody obviously knows coaching. He also knows all coaches face rebuilding tasks from time-to-time.
In 1989 Woody was a key component in the decision to put a coach, not in a rebuilding situation, but rather in building mode. Along with being the baseball coach then, Hunt also was the athletic director, and he helped spearhead the effort to bring football back to the school in Lebanon.
The football program had been dormant since 1949. Up until that point the football team may have been best-known for suffering a 222-0 loss in 1916 to Georgia Tech. Woody and former Cumberland President Dr. Tom Mills were not only visionaries but also optimists. They were confident the football program not only could be revived, but that it could thrive and be successful.
So, Hunt, who was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, is the recipient of this chapter’s 2020 highest honor, the Fred Russell Distinguished American Award.
After resurrecting the football program at Cumberland, Hunt and Dr. Mills made the wise decision to hire Nashville high school coaching legend Nick Coutras to oversee the team prior to the 1990 season.
Woody said at the time: “Nick Coutras’ name will bring instant credibility to our program; his name will attract players, and he will bring discipline to our program, which we feel is very important in its formative stage.”
Woody has served as Cumberland’s athletic director several times in the 41 years he has been at the school. He also has coached the men’s and women’s basketball teams. But baseball has remained his main passion. The school’s baseball facility is fittingly named in Hunt’s honor. He has led the Phoenix to the NAIA World Series 16 times, most recently in 2018, and the team has posted just two losing records in Hunt’s tenure.