To a team of 34 Russians, Eldon Forrest Cunningham is the coach who taught them the fundamentals of American football and took them on a U.S. tour.
But to two former wives and a live-in companion, he's the partner who abandoned them without support for a total of five daughters."He can start his whole life over just like that," said Debra Worley, who lived with Cunningham in Houston until he deserted her in 1987 while she was pregnant with their second child.
Cunningham gained attention for converting Russian rugby players, wrestlers and Olympians into a semi-professional football team, the Russian Czars, which toured the United States this fall.
But thanks to that attention, he was arrested Oct. 15 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., during a joint practice between the school's team and the Czars. Worley had turned him in.
Cunningham, 42, who owes at least $35,000 in back support payments, is in jail in Houston without bail awaiting arraignment Tuesday for failure to make $15,000 in support payments to two children born to Worley.
Cunningham has been jailed at least twice previously and repeatedly misrepresented his background in sports.
Cunningham's first wife, Jeanne Savant of Kinder, La., said she is working with a prosecutor to have Cunningham eventually extradited to Louisiana to face charges.
Savant, who has remarried, said Cunningham paid only $1,500 in child-support since 1984. She said she is seeking $20,000 in back payments and $200 a month for two daughters, now teenagers, born during their 10-year marriage.
Worley said Cunningham was ordered by a Houston judge on Aug. 7, 1991, to pay her $5,000 in past child-support payments by Sept. 30, 1991.
"He never paid one payment since he was ordered to pay. Not one payment," Worley said.
Five days after that Houston ruling, Cunningham left for Moscow, where he was married again and was hired to coach the Moscow Bears football team. In January, Cunningham was named coach of the newly formed Czars.
Cunningham has acknowledged that he was wrong for not making payments for the children he had with Savant, Worley and Bonnie Baker whom he married in 1988.