We could sit here and talk about the great defenses he fielded in the 1990s, with Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dale Carter, all of that. It's all been done to death and quite frankly, the Chiefs need to figure out how to create some new memories instead of leaving us all clutching to faded ones.
It would also be easy to talk about Cunningham's failed return to Kansas City – and let's be honest, it failed. The season before his return, the Chiefs ranked 29th on defense, and last season, after five years and a ridiculous revolving door of defensive talent (some of which was not so talented) and coaches, the Chiefs ranked 31st. I'm not sure if there is a more obvious definition of failure in the NFL over the last five years, especially now that Matt Millen has been fired.
We could recount all of this stuff. There's a huge list of defenders the Chiefs missed on, a huge variety of quotes from Cunningham that came back to haunt him in the end, any number of things that made him appear foolish and ultimately have landed him in another NFL city.
But forget about all that football stuff. Under Cunningham, the Chiefs had some good defenses, they had some mediocre defenses, and they had some terrible defenses. None of that is especially notable. The average NFL defensive coordinator with as much experience as Cunningham has a similar track record.
So, all that's really left to say is that Gunther Cunningham was entertaining as hell. There were no championships and no revolutionary innovations that changed how the NFL plays defense, so that's how we ought to remember Cunningham – as an entertainer.
How did Gunther entertain? Let us count the ways.
• Gunther The Quotable
Think of every coach or front officer who has worked for the Chiefs since 1995. Think of all the interviews they've given. Who was the most fun?
Carl Peterson, Marty Schottenehimer, Dick Vermeil, Herm Edwards, they all had their moments. But when Gunther Cunningham got behind that microphone, you were guaranteed a show. There's no question about it. If you wanted a juicy quote, something completely off-the-wall and unexpected, you talked to Gunther Cunningham.
One day last season, in the middle of the Chiefs' losing streak, Cunningham emerged from seclusion at Arrowhead Stadium and talked to reporters for at least 45 minutes, maybe longer. As someone who has transcribed a ton of recorded interviews from a myriad of Chiefs football personalities, let me say this – I have never had more fun listening to any interview in three years with Warpaint Illustrated.
There was no generic coachspeak in this interview. Cunningham told such interesting stories, with such detail, we filled the entire website up with pure, unadulterated Gunther Cunningham. For one day, we were Gunther Cunningham Illustrated, and yes, it was entertaining.
Here's a prediction - websites covering the Detroit Lions are going to get a ton of hits from IP addresses located in Kansas City over the next few months. That's because Cunningham will be talking. Chiefs fans may be disappointed, angry or disgusted with Cunningham right now, but ignoring him is not an option.
• Gunther The Film Star
Ever wonder why television networks seemed to show countless shots of Gunther Cunningham during Chiefs games? They didn't stop at showing him in the booth, either. When Cunningham moved down to the sidelines in 2005, the cameras followed.
There's a good reason for all of that coverage: Cunningham is the Jon Gruden of NFL defensive coordinators. What's not to love about a guy who chomps tobacco while wearing yellow sunglasses and an expression that could kill? That's great television.
No one will forget the images ABC captured during a game Kansas City played in Baltimore in 2004. With the Chiefs victorious, Cunningham wrapped up his coaching gear, but took the time to hand out some well-chosen verbal barbs to the mouthy Ravens fans who surrounded his booth. John Madden said it best: "Gunther doesn't take lip, he gives lip."
As it turned out, Gunther also gives the finger, as CBS showed us during a 2005 game at Texas Stadium. After a penalty-aided touchdown, the Dallas Cowboys took a late lead and eventually beat the Chiefs. Of course, Cunningham wasn't too happy about the penalty, and let the referee know it with one upright middle finger, captured beautifully in high definition.
The best was yet to come, however, because when HBO invaded River Falls in 2007, they quickly learned Cunningham could put on a show like no one else. Whether he was dropping expletives concerning Family Fun Night, talking about having a heart attack, or spilling tobacco juice on his gameplan, the Hard Knocks crew gave us all a rare glimpse into the personality of Gunther Cunningham that we had never seen before.
• Gunther The Geek
You've probably heard that Herm Edwards doesn't "do" the internet. Ever wonder why? My guess – he got fed up reading the countless e-mails Gunther Cunningham was flooding his inbox with.
Obviously that's a joke, but Cunningham's affinity for all things technical is well documented. You have to admire a guy in his 60s who embraces modern computers to the extent that he has his entire defense backed up on a hard drive. I wonder – did Cunningham prefer Mac or PC? My guess is he'd never be caught wearing a black beret and sipping on French coffee.
And of course, he was once fired over the internet. You'd think Carl Peterson would have had the common decency to at least send him an e-mail or an instant message, you know? Keep it private?
• Gunther The Linebackers Coach
Wouldn't you know it, Gunther Cunningham went and saved the best for last. When the Chiefs announced he would take on the additional responsibility of linebackers coach before this past season, most may not have thought much of it. But when training camp rolled around, it quickly became obvious there was an unexpected treat in store.
As a defensive coordinator, Cunningham wasn't all that entertaining during two-a-days. But as a linebackers coach, he was just about the most vocal person on the field. Non-contact drills became the most exciting five minutes of any practice session with Cunningham barking out motivation like a commanding officer.
In fact, he was so entertaining, when it became clear just what he was up to, our training camp reports featured a daily section focusing solely on what Gunther was raving about. It was easily the highlight of the 2008 training camp. The Chiefs should have charged admission to hear Gunther and defensive line coach Tim Krumrie yell their way around the practice field.
But that's it. The show's over. The Gunther Cunningam Circus has left Kansas City for Detroit, and the Chiefs just lost one of the most entertaining coaches in the NFL. We have to be a little sad, because if the New England Patriots are any indication, Scott Pioli's coaching staff will be pretty dull in comparison.
What will Cunningham do in Detroit? I guarantee you he'll improve the defense – after all, the Lions ranked 32nd last season, so there's nowhere to go but up. But forget about all that football stuff. Cunningham, at the least, will entertain the hell out of the Motor City. When you're 0-16, a few laughs can't hurt.
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