Kansas City Chiefs: Chiefs Mourn Loss of Longtime Coach


“So sad to hear of the passing of one of the best coaches in the game, Gunther Cunningham. I went against him & his defense in practice every day for 4yrs with the KC & it definitely made me a better player. He was intense & took it personally if you had any success vs his unit!” – former Chief quarterback and NFL Analyst Rich Gannon


Former Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach and two-time Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer. Coach Cunningham was 72.

At age 10, Cunningham immigrated to the United States from Germany shortly after World War II. The young man immediately fell in love with the sport he would devote his life to.

Cunningham attended the University of Oregon, where he played linebacker and placekicker for the Ducks.


Early Coaching Career

After graduation, Cunningham embarked on a coaching career lasting almost 40 years. That career included multiple assistant coaching positions at various colleges and even a stint with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1981.

In 1982, Cunningham graduated to the NFL, accepting a position as the defensive line and linebackers coach for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts. He had various defensive assistant coaching positions in the years following with both the San Diego Chargers and the Los Angeles Raiders.


Coaching Kansas City

Cunningham is best remembered for his time with the Chiefs. He joined head coach Marty Schottenheimer as the Chiefs defensive coordinator. In the four seasons between spanning from 1995-1998, Cunningham consistently coached Super Bowl-caliber defenses. This included mentoring defensive superstars the likes of Derrick Thomas, James Hasty, Neil Smith, and Dale Carter. During his tenure as defensive coordinator, his defense led the Chiefs to an overall record of 42-22 while allowing an average of only 16.4 points per game. That squad also produced a turnover margin of +30.

When Schottenheimer resigned in 1998, Cunningham assumed the Chiefs’ head coaching duties. Unfortunately, the team did not produce as expected for the next two years with an overall record of 16-16. Cunningham was replaced by Dick Vermeil after being fired by Kansas City. The firing was controversial though. Cunningham claimed they never notified him of the move and he found out only by reading about it in an article on the Chiefs website.

Late Coaching Career

Cunningham served as assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the Tennessee Titans for three years. However, the Chiefs lured him back to serve as defensive coordinator once again from 2004-2008 under Vermeil. After his second term as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, Cunningham served as the defensive coordinator and, subsequently, as a senior coaching assistant before retiring in 2016.

Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt issued a statement earlier today remembering and praising his former coach. “My family and I are deeply saddened to hear the news of Gunther’s passing. He finished with nine seasons as defensive coordinator and two as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He led some of the most feared defenses in our franchise’s history with his energetic and motivating coaching style. Gunther made a tremendous impact on so many lives on and off the playing field in nearly five decades of coaching. Our heartfelt condolences go out to René, Natalie, Adam and the entire Cunningham family during this difficult time.”


Cunningham is survived by his wife Rene, sons Grant and Adam, and daughter Natalie.


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