Gunther Cunningham Hired as Lions' Defensive Coordinator

Scott RiegerAnalyst IJanuary 21, 2009

The Lions and new head coach Jim Schwartz have hired long-time NFL assistant Gunther Cunningham as defensive coordinator. Cunningham will also have the title of assistant head coach.

I wrote an article the other day voicing my concern with reports that the Lions were interested in Cunningham and, actually, I am not that pleased with the hire. I will, though, for the purposes of this article, try to focus on the positives he brings to the Lions.

For the past several years, Cunningham has been with the Kansas City Chiefs in various roles, including defensive coordinator and head coach. He also had a three-year stint as the linebackers coach for the Tennessee Titans, where he worked with Lions head man Schwartz.

Cunningham is known as a fiery and demanding coordinator who isn't afraid to get into the players' faces about mistakes and mental errors. 

One coordinator for the Senior Bowl practices said this week, "He's half-crazy, good coach, but he's half-crazy. Very, very intense.''

Another assistant coach said Cunningham's "explosive."

"He doesn't tolerate anybody stepping out of line. Those players will learn very quickly that they can't test him," the coach said.

For a coach who has been involved in coaching for nearly 40 years, he has had his share of ups and downs, both of which have been to the extreme. In 1995 and 1997, he presided over some of the most successful and dominating defenses in NFL history, and last season he presided over one of the worst groups as well.

There is no doubt that he brings vast experience, attitude, and a level of respect that the players will show him as a result of those attributes. Furthermore, it will benefit him to be working under a coach that he has served under before, as far as assignment of duties and responsibilities, scheme questions, etc.

However, make no mistake that this job won't be easy. He is expected to revitalize a defense that was the epitome of a doormat this past year. The unit was largely void of NFL-caliber talent and performed as such. 

Hopefully, the Lions will be able to supply Cunningham with the players he needs to make the defense better.

One huge concern I have, though, is the guys Cunningham will pine for in the draft meetings, as his last many high-round defensive draft picks have been unimpressive.

In 2008, the Chiefs selected DT Glenn Dorsey with the fifth overall pick and selected CB Brandon Flowers with the 35th overall pick (second round).

Dorsey started all 16 games and posted a rather average season total of 46 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. Not horrible, but not what is expected from the No. 1 DT taken in the draft.

Brandon Flowers had a good season, starting 13 games and finishing with 69 tackles, one forced fumble, 13 pass defenses, and two interceptions, one of which he took back 91 yards for a score.

In 2007, they selected DE Turk McBride in the second round and DT Tank Tyler in the third round.

Tank Tyler started every game this last year and was unimpressive. He still hasn't recorded a sack in his two-year career, nor has he notched a forced fumble or fumble recovery.

Turk McBride has been better than Tyler, but still not overly impressive. He played in nine games last season, all starts, and had as many tackles in those nine games as Tyler had all season.

In 2006, they picked Tamba Hali with the 20th overall pick and followed that up with S Bernard Pollard in the second round.

Tamba Hali got off to a great start, amassing 15.5 sacks over his first two seasons. However, he regressed this past season, posting 54 tackles and only three sacks.

Pollard barely played as a rookie but has developed into a decent safety with consecutive seasons of 90 or more tackles.

In 2005, they selected OLB Derrick Johnson from Texas with the 15th overall selection.

Easily the most successful and productive of the bunch, Johnson has accumulated 349 tackles, 12 sacks, 20 pass defenses, and three interceptions.

In 2004, they selected DT Junior Siavii with their first pick, which was the 36th overall selection, and LB Keyaron Fox in the third round. Neither is even on the roster anymore.

So, out of the past five drafts, there have been 10 players selected in the first three rounds. Out of those players, only one (Derrick Johnson) has performed at a Pro Bowl level and only three others have been productive starters (Pollard, Hali, and Flowers).

Now, some of the others, like Dorsey, could still develop and live up to their potential, but the jury is still out.

As it sits, four of 10 picks can be considered quality starters. That's only 40 percent. Now, the Lions' percentages over that same period are even worse, but that still is an area of concern with me. 

The Lions, Schwartz, and Cunningham, will have to team together with the scouts to ensure that the majority of the players they bring in over the first three rounds are able to quickly earn starting positions and perform at a high level, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Let's hope they can do it.


    NFLPA Director: NBA Could Model Ratings Fix

    NFL logo

    NFLPA Director: NBA Could Model Ratings Fix

    Dan Graziano

    Former Lions QB Jon Kitna Enjoying Coaching Career

    Detroit Lions logo
    Detroit Lions

    Former Lions QB Jon Kitna Enjoying Coaching Career

    via Detroitlions

    Defensive Line Additions Still Lions Top Need

    Detroit Lions logo
    Detroit Lions

    Defensive Line Additions Still Lions Top Need

    SideLion Report
    via SideLion Report

    Several 2014 1st-Rd Picks Will Get Bigger Deals Than Bortles

    Detroit Lions logo
    Detroit Lions

    Several 2014 1st-Rd Picks Will Get Bigger Deals Than Bortles

    Michael David Smith
    via ProFootballTalk