Known as a fiery teacher who loved his players and hated losing, few football personalities have matched that of Gunther Cunningham. And as news of his passing from cancer spread across the NFL, naturally there were reactions of sadness and respect.
Born in Munich, Germany, in 1946 to an American serviceman and a German mother, Cunningham came to the United States with his family at the age of 10.
Cunningham got his first coaching job with the University of Oregon in 1969, where he’d been a linebacker and kicker. After bouncing from Arkansas, to Stanford, to Cal, and the CFL, he finally broke into the NFL coaching ranks with the Colts in 1982.
Cunningham would coach for the Colts, Chargers, Raiders, Titans, and Lions, but it was in his 11 seasons in Kansas City where Cunningham best made a name for himself.
Hired as a defensive coordinator with the Chiefs in 1995, Cunningham coached Chiefs greats like Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, and Dale Carter over his four years as DC, and the Chiefs led the NFL during that stretch by allowing just 16.4 points per game.
He eventually succeeded Marty Schottenheimer as head coach in 1999 and had two average seasons at the helm (9-7 and 7-9). He was replaced by Dick Vermeil as head coach in 2001, who then brought Cunningham back as the defensive coordinator in 2004 to fix Vermeil’s porous defense.
During that five-year stretch Cunningham helped shaped the careers of defensive standouts like Tamba Hali, Bernard Pollard, Jared Allen, and Derrick Johnson.
Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt released the following statement regarding the passing of Gunther Cunningham:
“My family and I are deeply saddened to hear the news of Gunther’s passing. During his nine seasons as defensive coordinator and two as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he led some of the most feared defenses in our franchise’s history with his energetic and motivating coaching style. Gunther made a tremendous impact on so many lives on and off the playing field in nearly five decades of coaching. Our heartfelt condolences go out to René, Natalie, Adam and the entire Cunningham family during this difficult time.”
Gunther Cunningham, one of finest men, and one of the hardest working defensive minds to ever grace the NFL, dead at 72, but forever a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.