Gunther 101

You might think you know everything about Gunther Cunningham. You've watched him build great defenses in Kansas City, try his hand as the head coach, get fired over the internet, come back to rebuild the defense and through it all, coach with his heart on his sleeve, a rasp in his voice and a tear in his eye when he talks about Arrowhead Stadium.

All of that is accurate. So is the fact that Cunningham yells at his players sometimes. But he respects his head coach too much – he won't do it around Herm Edwards.

On several occasions this year, Cunningham would ask his head coach to go upstairs, away from the defensive meeting room, so he was out of ear shot.

"One time he heard me on the second floor," said Cunningham. "I didn't think it was that loud, but he knows that sometimes a defensive coach has to go in that room and speak a different language."

What did Edwards potentially miss this year by going upstairs? Sure, there was some yelling. But there was also teaching. And tests. Are you ready to meet Professor Cunningham?

Kansas City's defenders got acquainted with him in November of 2007. The Chiefs were preparing for a road trip to Indianapolis one week last season, and Cunningham was preparing for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Chiefs would practice in their indoor facility, where Damon Huard would simulate Manning and his use of the play clock before every snap (a full 24 seconds). But it wasn't enough. Cunningham wasn't getting the response he needed off the field in order to fully organize his squad for the Colts' dynamic offense.

"What happens to players, they get beat up physically so bad during the day and during the week, by the time they get to these meetings they're like a fried egg," said Cunningham. "You're teaching and it's not getting across."

How would Cunningham get his message across? Did he yell? No. He put on his thinking cap, came up with a fresh idea and put his players' brains on the spot.

Cunningham devised a pop quiz of sorts in which a random player's name would appear on a slide that also included a question. The questions varied – some about football schemes, some about stats and some about matters completely unrelated to professional football. It didn't matter.

The tricky part? The questions were timed.

"As I clicked the slide up with this portable mouse and the name came up, I started yelling, ‘four seconds, answer the damn question'," said Cunningham. "We did this thing, and I thought son of a gun. I got the answer to becoming a better teacher and making them pros."

The tests became a regular event. Cunningham kept track of every player's score. Linebacker Derrick Johnson finished the season 94 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. The stat you won't find on NFL.com is his Gunther Cunningham 101 test score – 10 for 14.

Some players, like linebacker Donnie Edwards, started out scoring at 100 percent. In order to keep up the pace, he and everyone else had to stay alert for meetings. Any player's name could pop up at any time during the course of a discussion.

"I would do it at different stages of the meetings," said Cunningham. "I'd start like there was no test and all of a sudden the slide jumps up and your name is on it, you have four seconds. What happened, for years I tried to look at this, to see if it's doable, to make them more professional. It was really funny because they all had notepads, they all had pencils, they all had their gameplans open and they were flipping pages and reading. I was the luckiest guy ever, because I had been trying to figure out a way to do this."

Cunningham had found the answer, but didn't realize he had also created a monster. His players became obsessed with the testing. Linebacker Napoleon Harris approached defensive assistant Mike Ketchum and tried to pry information from him. When were the tests? What was on them? Who would be tested?

Even Ketchum didn't know. Cunningham's secret tests were locked up tighter than blue book exams the night before a college final.

"You got to our pride," Harris would later tell his defensive coordatinor. "You broke us. You knew there was going to be a competition, that I wanted to be the top dog."

"Yeah," Cunningham would say, "it didn't take long to figure that out."

And that's exactly what Professor Cunningham did. He figured out a way to get a bunch of practice-bloodied "fried eggs" to prepare mentally for Peyton Manning. His students went to Indianapolis after that first week of testing and held the World Champions to 13 points and 216 yards of total offense, the lowest output the Colts' offense would produce all season long (other than a Week 17 game featuring backup quarterback Jim Sorgi).

Of course, like any good professor, Gunther Cunningham allowed his class to assign their teacher a grade. At the end of the season, the entire defense was graded, including every coach.

Cunningham wouldn't say what he grade he received. But he certainly wasn't yelling about it. That just wouldn't be appropriate in the classroom.

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