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New Chief in K.C.
Defensive expert Cunningham promises revived offense
Posted: Saturday January 23, 1999 08:17 AM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gunther Cunningham figures that having spent his coaching career plotting how to stop an offense, he's learned a little bit about how to make one go.
"I really believe I have a creative mind in the game of football, whether it's offense or defense," Cunningham said Friday after he was promoted from defensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs to head coach to succeed Marty Schottenheimer.
Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson said Cunningham had "unbelievable thoughts" about offense, presumably all of them good thoughts as he takes over a 7-9 team that apparently wore down Schottenheimer after 10 seasons.
Cunningham's defensive credentials are impeccable -- the Chiefs led the NFL in scoring defense in 1995 and 1997, and lead the AFC since 1995 with a plus-30 in turnover margin.
Any worry that Cunningham would have trouble devising an offense was overwhelmed by the respect that he has earned within the organization and among the players.
"He is a player's coach," Peterson said. "They listen to him because they respect him. He will get them to respond."
That became an issue amid the signs -- an embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship on Monday night, NFL records in penalties -- that Schottenheimer had lost control of the team.
"I think we've got good football players," Cunningham said. "I'm looking forward to making our football players play the game the way I believe it should be played. I think they're trying to come back and show everybody what they can do."
Cunningham said there would be no change from Schottenheimer's decision that Elvis Grbac is the "quarterback of the future," although he has been injured in each of the past two seasons.
Backup Rich Gannon played well last year even after Grbac had recovered from an opening game shoulder injury. Gannon, a free agent, is likely to sign with a team that will give him an opportunity to be a starter.
"What are we going to do on offense? Well, I think I've got an idea or two since I've practiced this trade for 18 years in how to stop them," Cunningham said. "I believe I know what it takes to move the football. I think we have tremendous players here. We can be explosive on offense."
On defense, Cunningham said he was confident that Derrick Thomas can come back from a poor season. The Chiefs devised an alignment they thought would maximize Thomas' pass-rushing ability, but it was a failure and Cunningham said the team would likely return to a more standard alignment that had Thomas back at linebacker.
"I know Derrick Thomas can still make the plays," Cunningham said.
Cunningham, 52, was born in Germany and becomes the fourth foreign-born coach in NFL history.
He began his coaching career in 1969 at Oregon, his alma mater, and became a pro coach with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL in 1981. He was a defensive assistant with the Colts, San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Raiders before joining Schottenheimer's staff in 1995.
He had also been considered a leading candidate for the Chicago Bears' job.
Cunningham admits to being an emotional coach and says that will not change.
"I am euphoric at finally getting this opportunity," said Cunningham, who moved to the United States at the age of 12 when his mother married an American serviceman.
"I have sat through meeting after meeting after meeting to learn and learn and I am ready to put my mark on a football team. I happen to wear my feelings on my sleeve. I will not change," he said.
"Players will play for him," said Chiefs second-year running back Rashaan Shehee. "When you're doing something wrong he'll explain it to you, but if he has to get in your face, he'll get in your face. When you're doing something right, he'll pat you on the back."
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