The search to replace Greg Robinson has ended as Gunther Cunningham will return to Kansas City to coach the Chiefs ailing and underachieving defense for the next two years.
Cunningham, who was the defensive coordinator under Marty Schottenheimer and then succeeded him as head coach, will be doing something very unprecedented. He'll be returning to the team that fired him just three years ago.
But that's in the past as Cunningham indicated that if the offer was extended to return to Kansas City, that he'd accept the job. Despite reports to the contrary, Cunningham has no ill feelings toward Chiefs President Carl Peterson nor Dick Vermeil.
Cunningham will be counted on to improve the Chiefs defense which was statistically one of the worst defenses the last two seasons. The Chiefs have a plethora of talent on defense but under Robinson's system the strengths of the players were sacrificed in trying to assimilate and execute the gap system that Robinson implemented the last three seasons.
That won't be a problem under Cunningham. He's an in-your-face coach who will not allow anyone to play on his defense that does not give 110% on every snap. He'll demand that his players work hard in off-season workouts and he'll show an intense loyalty and dedication in making the unit as a whole better.
Cunningham, like Vermeil, is a great motivator. His defensive players will walk through fire for him and they will play with an intense attitude that has been missing on defense since he left the organization after the 2000 season.
For Vermeil and Peterson, this was a calculated risk in approaching Cunningham, but it should pay dividends in the long run. Despite the loss to the Colts a week ago, the Chiefs still have the best offense in the NFL. Thus the pressure for Cunningham to improve the defense to a Top 10 team won't be mandatory. If they can improve against the run by 50 yards per game and the pass by 75 per game, then this team will have enough on defense to be middle of the road and that's good enough for the Chiefs to make a serious run at the Super Bowl.
Cunningham however must be given control of the players on the field and input on existing players, possible free agent and on draft day. It was Cunningham who found Safety Greg Wesley and who was able to get the most out of players like defensive end Eric Hicks. Cunningham will have young players like Jimmy Wilkerson and Ryan Sims to motivate and mature.
He has to find away to get Vonnie Holliday, R-Kal Truluck and find away to get Gary Stills on the field on passing downs. But it all starts up front and John Browning has to stay healthy and play at a higher level.
It will not be easy for Cunningham to get the job done and he'll need to completely overhaul the defense but he must have the support of Vermeil to do so. Their might be some starter who get jettisoned because of Cunningham and the Chiefs must allow him to do so or brining him back could be risky.
The team must re-sign Jerome Woods as it did with Wesley and they need to make a quick decision on Hicks both who could become unrestricted free agents. The team will need to develop cornerback Julian Battle or try and acquire a free agent corner like Charles Woodson or Shawn Springs. The Chiefs are not strong at man to man coverage and they'll need an upgrade.
Cunningham is especially adept at developing linebackers and the Chiefs need to make a decision on Mike Maslowski who missed the second half of the season. He flourished under Cunningham's system in Kansas City but his lack of speed is a concern.
As for the contract, no terms were released but it is a two-year contract. With Al Saunders signing a new contract on Saturday worth $1 Million per season, it's likely Cunningham received a similar deal from the Chiefs.
With Cunningham in the fold, Saunders under contract and Vermeil back, the Chiefs have the makings for the best and most experienced coaching staff in the NFL.
After falling short this year, the Chiefs are now back on course and ready to learn from the mistakes that cost them a Super Bowl in 2003. With the signing of Cunningham, the Chiefs are once again the team to beat in the AFC West and for that matter in the AFC in 2004.
Now they just have to make some adjustments with personnel and do it on the field. With Cunningham in place, the players on defense have no more excuses. Neither does the rest of the team.