Remembering Gunther Cunningham: "A guy who lived and died coaching"

Former Chiefs' PR director Bob Moore remembers Cunningham with one of the best training- camp stories ever.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Bob Moore interview, fast forward to 12:54 of the attachment above)

When former head coach and defensive assistant Gunther Cunningham passed away two weekends ago, there was a long line of admirers waiting to praise him as one the most passionate, intense and caring individuals to pass through the NFL.

And in that line was former Chiefs’ public-relations director Bob Moore, now the team's historian.

“He was a guy who lived and died coaching,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.

Moore should know. Cunningham was both a head coach and defensive coordinator for Kansas City.

He was a coordinator under Marty Schottenheimer from 1995-1998 before succeeding him as head coach. That tenure lasted only two years, with Cunningham 16-16. But he would return to Kansas City in 2004 to coach the defense under Dick Vermeil before moving on later to Detroit.

When he died on May 11 at the age of 72 he was no longer coaching. In fact, he hadn’t been an assistant anywhere since leaving the Lions after the 2016 season.

“He was intense,” said Moore. “Here’s a guy who gets up at 4 o’clock in the morning and would drive to work. He would be there at 4 o’clock in the morning, coaching with everything – chewing tobacco, drinking coffee and at about 9 o’clock he was cranked and reaching his apex already.

“And when you take that away from these guys … a guy like him … it really loses something. That’s all the guy ever wanted to do was coach … Coaching was everything to this guy. Everything.

Moore had plenty of stories about Cunningham’s tenure with the Chiefs, but the most memorable was the day that former President George W. Bush – then a candidate for election – was on a campaign tour in the late 1990s and stopped by the Chiefs’ training facility at River Falls, Wis.

Cunningham was still the team’s defensive coordinator at the time.

“And as he got out of his car,” Moore said of Bush, picking up the story, “and was meeting with players, one of our players yelled, ‘Hey, Gunn, Gunn’ … at which point the Secret Service agents jumped all over these guys.

“And the guy says, ‘I’m just yelling at our defensive coordinator – Gunther ‘Gunn’ Cunningham.’ I think that’s one of the most amazing things because we got see it up front when someone yells, ‘Gunn.’ “

Cunningham’s stay in Kansas City, as mentioned was short, but it was productive from one aspect. Although the Chiefs never made the playoffs in his two years there, they never lost to Denver, either, and you can look it up.

Four games, four wins.

“Of course, Gunn would remind you of that,” said Moore, “and would say, ‘I own (Mike) Shanahan.’ “

One problem: He didn’t own anyone else, going 12-16 vs. everyone but the Broncos. But Moore considers that more a barometer of the Chiefs’ aging roster than Cunningham’s head coaching. In short, he believes Cunningham inherited a team in decline.

“It was probably a bad situation for him when you look at where the team was at that point,” he said.

It took Cunningham years to get over his firing, but he managed to put aside his emotions when he agreed to return to the Chiefs four years later as their defensive coordinator. He would stay five seasons, first under Vermeil and then with Herman Edwards.

“Gunn was in some ways tortured by some of the things,” said Moore, “and wanted to be such a good head coach and was such a great guy. And the fact that they brought him back years later as a defensive coordinator – and he came back – is evidence of the fact that he had fond memories of Kansas City, and he really loved the place.”

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