One of the first things Herman Edwards had to do when he took over was to clean up, shape up and reorganize an underachieving coaching staff. The previous defensive coaching staff didn't do a very good job, but even before Edwards was hired, we knew Cunningham was returning.
Before Cunningham accepted the job to return to the Chiefs as defensive coordinator two seasons ago, he made a stop in New York. There, he interviewed with Edwards, at that time still the head coach of the Jets.
Edwards probably knew that Cunningham was already leaning toward coming back to Kansas City, but Edwards still gave it a shot. Nonetheless, that session built a rapport between the two and they probably thought that somewhere down the line they might work together.
Now they get that chance.
Cunningham never gave up during the last two years in guiding this defense and molding them into a unit that could compete. Eventually, they did take steps forward, especially against the run. Most fans will only remember the effort against the Giants when running back Tiki Barber ran through them like Swiss cheese, but the run defense has improved every year.
Where they suffered in 2005 was against the pass. The additions of cornerback Patrick Surtain and safety Sammy Knight helped, but the Chiefs linebackers and defensive line could not put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That put the secondary back on their heels and they struggled to get the job done.
But the real problem for Cunningham the last two years was the fact that he could not hire his own coaching staff. That all changed this off-season as he and Edwards worked together to reshape the defensive coaching staff.
Added were linebackers coach Don Blackmon, defensive backs coach David Gibbs and defensive line coach Tim Krumrie. All three of them have extensive experience in the NFL and come to the Chiefs as guys who are willing to teach.
Cunningham, above everything else, is a great teacher, but he's only as good as his assistants. And unlike a year ago, when it appeared Cunningham was the only defensive coach giving instruction, this group - along with Edwards – has already made the defense better.
Cunningham appears to be a changed man since Edwards came aboard. I've seen him smile on the practice field and in the locker room. He appears to have a bounce in his step and the verbal tirades that were once a signature of his personality are now absent during practice.
That doesn't mean he's lost his intensity. Quite the opposite is true, but outside of chewing out Ryan Sims over his weight, he's been a model citizen.
New coaches will help, but turning around this defense won't be easy. The team still has some holes to fill and several starting positions are anything but set. Some young guys will get a chance to play right away, especially first and second-round draft picks Tamba Hali and Bernard Pollard.
The Chiefs are in good hands with Cunningham. He has the drive and determination to rebuild the defense into one of the NFL's better units. The offense can only carry the team so far. If Kansas City is going to win the division and make the playoffs, the defense will have to do their part.
If that happens, the Chiefs will have a chance to make some noise. And then everyone will realize that bringing back Cunningham might have been the wisest off-season move of all.
Nobody wants to deliver a winning defense to the fans of Kansas City more than Gunther Cunningham.
Next Move: Larry Johnson
Move #9 – Herman Edwards Succeeds Dick Vermeil
Move #10 – Carl Peterson Hires Herman Edwards
Move # 8: Retaining Gunther Cunningham
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