Chiefs Prediction #4: Gunther Cunningham will Fight for his Job
By Jon Yoon | June 21st, 2008
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Kansas City has made it no secret that Herm Edwars’ job is safe. Barring some ridiculously poor offensive performance in 2008, Chan Gailey’s job is safe. We haven’t heard anything about Gunther Cunningham having the same kind of job security.
Under the Gun
There’s a lot to like about Gunther Cunningham. There’s something very endearing about his personality. He’ll swear in front of your kids. He’ll curse and spit at players three times his size. He lives, breathes, and craps football 24/7. Personalities are nice, but sooner or later he’ll have to be held accountable for the defense he puts on the field. Gunther Cunningham’s defense has not been impressive in his second stint and he’s running out of excuses. Every year, he’s had a new excuse. Year 1, his defense underachieved because he didn’t have his players. The year after that, he failed because Vermeil handcuffed him with his offensive approach and lousy defensive assistants. They’ve moved Gunther inside the booth and outside the booth. Surrounded him with his players, and soon surrounded him with better players. They’ve surrounded him with a defensive head coach and terrific assistants. In 2006, they gave him a run-heavy offense that afforded him well-rested players and a favorable defensive environment. Granted, in 2007, he was limited by the fact that his defense was on the field all the time and undoubtedly grew tired, but that should not excuse the fact that Cunningham has yet to produce a defense that he should be producing.
Not to say that he is incapable of doing it, but he certainly needs to prove that he can do it. You can’t help but wonder if Cunningham piggy-backed off Marty Schottenheimer in his first stint as defensive coordinator. The truth is, Marty has built outstanding defenses in Cleveland and San Diego without Cunningham; Cunningham has not built nearly the same kind of defense without Marty. There also has to be some question as to whether Derrick Thomas was one of the main reasons for Gun’s prior successes. His defense was never the same after DT tragically passed.
Gun is an outstanding defensive coach and I’m excited for him to coach our LBs, but I’m beginning to wonder if his role should shift toward coaching LBs and less toward coordinating defenses. It was no secret that when Gun was asked to stay on as Herm Edwards’ assistant, there was somewhat of a philosophy clash–Herm runs a defense that usually features few blitzes and zone discipline, whereas Gunther runs an aggressive, attacking, blitz-heavy defense. I’ve always thought Gun’s use of his corners was slightly odd–he has always favored keeping corners on the same side of the field regardless of the matchup and there have been so many times when he moves corners 10-15 yards down the field–that’s pretty odd for a cover 2 defense, which usually requires corners to harass receivers near the line of scrimmage.
I also question why he continually favors slower strong safeties, when cover 2 defenses demand both safeties to cover a lot of field and to have outstanding range. His brand of safety is a great asset to have because of their physicality against the run, but at what cost? It limits the Chiefs’ ability to run a solid cover 2 and so often, we have seen our slower strong safeties get caught biting hard on playaction fakes or getting beat deep because they were playing too far inside the box. There have been many times when I’ve questioned whether Gunther Cunningham can be a little too aggressive at times.
Much like Solari was ill-equipped to run the more West Coast version of an offense that Herm desired, I’m beginning to wonder if there can ever be a marriage between Gun’s aggressive defense and Herm’s zone-oriented cover 2. This is a question that the Chiefs cannot sit and hope is the right answer, only to find out two years later that they were completely wrong. The Chiefs have given Gunther plenty of chances to succeed in Kansas City and he’s shown nothing thusfar to indicate that he is capable of building anything beyond a slightly above-average defense. The Chiefs will have to make a decision as to whether Gunther Cunningham is capable of fielding a good defense for the Chiefs, but whether he can field a Super Bowl defense given the type of defense Herm Edwards prefers to run. That decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.