When the Cleveland Browns fired Marty Schottenheimer after the 1988 season he was quickly hired by the Kansas City Chiefs to be their new head coach. As a fan of Schottenheimer, I kept tabs on his career and was happy with his success with the Chiefs. In 1995, the Chiefs added Gunther Cunningham to their coaching staff as their new defensive coordinator.
Cunningham’s attacking style of defense was well-suited for the players on the Chiefs roster. Defensive stars like linebacker Derrick Thomas and defensive end Neil Smith were going after the quarterback while cornerbacks Dale Carter and James Hasty made multiple Pro Bowls while under Cunningham’s tutelage. After the 1998 season Schottenheimer resigned as head coach of the Chiefs and Cunningham was named his successor.
While Cunningham’s career record of 16 – 16 as a head coach is pretty pedestrian, his biggest impact as the head coach of the Chiefs came between the 1999 and 2000 season when star linebacker Derrick Thomas died. The fortitude that Cunningham displayed in a time of great peril for the team is worthy of recognition.
While Cunningham would never be a head coach again, he did continue as an assistant coach until 2016. His last job was as a coaching assistant for the Detroit Lions. He coached for 47 consecutive years between college and the NFL and touched the lives of so many players and coaches.
This past Saturday Cunningham passed away. The legacy he leaves in the NFL is very large and he will be remembered as a fierce competitor who loved his players and wanted the very best for them.
We send our condolences to his family and all who loved him. May they find comfort in an appropriate time.