Gunther Cunningham

Gunther Cunningham Dead At 72

Former Chiefs head coach and longtime NFL assistant Gunther Cunningham has died at the age of 72. Cunningham, who most recently served as a senior coaching assistant with the Lions, was beloved around the league. 

Gunther Cunningham will forever be remembered as one of the great men of our game,” the Lions said in a statement. “He left a lasting impact on every person who was fortunate enough to work alongside him during his more than 47 years as a coach – including 34 years in the National Football League, the final eight of which were spent here in Detroit. Our organization is truly honored and proud to have been included in his distinguished coaching legacy. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his wife, René, and their entire family.”

Cunningham began his coaching career at the University of Oregon in 1969 and moved to the pro ranks in 1982 with the Lions. In 1995, he got his big break when the Chiefs appointed him as their defensive coordinator. Four years later, he was elevated to the head coaching position, where he went .500 over two years before being fired. Along the way, he also had stops with the Colts, Titans, Chargers, and Raiders.

Years later, Cunningham would return as the Chiefs’ DC and took on the same job with the Lions between 2009-2013.

We here at PFR extend our condolences to Cunningham’s loved ones.

Gunther Cunningham Joins PFF

Gunther Cunningham is leaving the Lions, but not for another coaching gig. The former defensive coordinator is joining Pro Football Focus as their new Director of Football Oversight, according to a team press release. Gunther Cunningham (vertical)

We are thrilled to add to our PFF family one of the true legends of defensive football,” Pro Football Focus Owner and NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth said in a statement. “Gunther Cunningham is such a unique coach and person. He has always connected with his players in such a deep personal way, and his aggressive style of defense has always made him a player and fan favorite. The rare aspect of Gunther’s career is how this old school coach has embraced today’s data analytics. It is the blending of that traditional football acumen with modern technical expertise that makes Gunther such a perfect fit for PFF.”

Cunningham has 48 years of coaching experience under his belt between the NFL and college. That resume includes two seasons as the Chiefs’ head coach and 15 as a defensive coordinator. He has spent the past eight seasons with the Lions with different titles, including assistant head coach/defensive coordinator and senior coaching advisor.

Lions Notes: Austin, Pettigrew

New Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has big shoes to fill, replacing 32-year NFL veteran Gunther Cunningham. Austin, 21 years Cunningham’s junior, just landed his first coordinating job at the pro level, and is expected to employ a more blitz-heavy defense than his predecessor, according to Justin Rogers of“We’re going to probably stay more in a 4-3, in terms of what we have personnel-wise,” said Austin. “Our pressures with our linebackers will be coming from different angles, different things that way, instead of a per se ‘rush linebacker’ that I’m used to dealing with.” Rogers said the odds do not favor the team pursuing an aforementioned rush linebacker in the draft or free agency, noting all three of the team’s starting linebackers from last season are under contract for 2014.

Other notes from the Motor City:

  • Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi touched on his tight end philosophy in a story relayed by’s Michael Rothstein, important given the free-agent status of Brandon Pettigrew. “It’s important to have a guy that can block the point of attack,” said Lombardi. “That’s important. A lot of teams are going to back-or-forth these days and you need a tight end that can hold up against those guys. And then, you want a guy who can be a pass receiver so you’re always looking for those well-rounded guys.”
  • Pettigrew played 925 out of 1,158 snaps for the Lions offense last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Rothstein notes that the Lions emphasized Pettigrew’s run-blocking ability to spearhead a running game led by Reggie Bush and Joique Bell that finished No. 17 in rushing yards last season.
  • If North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron or Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins were available in the second round, Rothstein said either two would be a sound investment. However, Ebron is widely regarded as the best tight end in the 2014 class and highly unlikely to make it out of the top-32.
  • Rothstein cites Dennis Pitta and Dallas Clark, who each played for head coach Jim Caldwell at some point, as potential replacements if Pettigrew is not retained, as well as former Jet and current Dolphin Dustin Keller .