Former Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham dead at 72

Blair Kerkhoff and Pete Grathoff, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Football

Gunther Cunningham was a defensive mastermind. As the Chiefs defensive coordinator for four seasons before becoming head coach, the team allowed the fewest points in the NFL.

Cunningham died on Saturday. He was 72. He last worked in the NFL for the Detroit Lions, and the team announced the news.

After spending four seasons with the Raiders, Cunningham was hired by Marty Schottenheimer as the Chiefs defensive coordinator ahead of the 1995 season. He worked with star players such as Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith, and the Chiefs had the top-ranked scoring defense in Cunningham's first season.

"He was intensity personified, a fully committed coach, and a brilliant defensive coordinator," said Carl Peterson, the Chiefs general manager during Cunningham's two tenures with the Chiefs.

When Schottenheimer resigned after the 1998 season, Cunningham was hired as head coach.

"We were trying to maintain continuity and the consistency we had built with Marty, where we had been to the playoffs seven of the past nine years," Peterson said. "We had an excellent defense, and felt like if we could sustain that and improve the offense a little we'd be right back in the playoffs."


The Chiefs came close in Cunningham's first season, finishing 9-7, the best record by a Chiefs rookie head coach.

The Chiefs needed a victory over Oakland at Arrowhead in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff spot but after taking a 17-0 lead fell 41-38 in overtime.

After the Chiefs finished 7-9 the following season, Cunningham was fired and replaced by Dick Vermeil.

After three seasons on the Tennessee Titans' staff, Cunningham returned to the Chiefs as defensive coordinator in 2004.


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