Gunther Cunningham to join PFF staff

The ex-NFL coach joins Pro Football Focus as the Director of Football Oversight.

| 3 months ago
(George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

(George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Gunther Cunningham to join PFF staff

CINCINNATI – Pro Football Focus, (@PFF) the global leader in American football performance data and insights, has hired veteran NFL coach Gunther Cunningham as Director of Football Oversight.

“We are thrilled to add to our PFF family one of the true legends of defensive football,” Pro Football Focus CEO/Owner and NBC Sunday Night Football color analyst Cris Collinsworth said. “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 coached on both the professional and college levels for 48 years, including 35 years in the NFL. His vast experience includes two seasons as head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999-2000 and 15 seasons as defensive coordinator.

“Having the privilege of working with Gunther for the past year has given me an even greater appreciation for his contributions to our game over the past five decades,” Lions Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Quinn said.

“When you consider all the lives he has touched and positively impacted during his football career, only then perhaps you can truly grasp the significant and historical role he has played in the game of football.

“We share Gunther’s excitement for this new chapter in his life and career and wish him and Pro Football Focus all the best.”

Cunningham worked for the Detroit Lions for the past eight seasons as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2009-13) and, most recently, senior coaching advisor (2014-16).

“Gunther’s passion for the game and love for his players has made him one of the most respected figures in our game, “Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. “After competing against each other for years, it was great working together the past three seasons.

“I thank Gunther for his contributions to the Lions and wish him and PFF all the best in the future.”


From 2004-08, Cunningham served as the Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator during his second stint with the organization, and in 2008 he also coached the Chiefs linebackers., Cunningham served as the Tennessee Titans assistant head coach/linebackers coach (2001-03) under former head coach Jeff Fisher. In three seasons, the Titans defense helped the franchise earn two playoff berths.

As head coach for the Chiefs (1999-2000), Cunningham compiled a 16-16 (.500) record. In 1999, the Chiefs were 9-7 as he became the first coach in Chiefs history to claim nine wins in his first season as head coach.

Over the years, Cunningham mentored several Pro Bowl and All-Pro players. Most notably, he has shared a special bond with the late, great nine-time Pro Bowl LB Derrick Thomas, who concluded his illustrious career as the all-time leading sack artist in Chiefs history with 126.5 QB sacks. Cunningham served as Thomas’ position coach in 1997, helping him earn his final Pro Bowl invitation.

Cunningham spent four seasons (1991-94) with the Los Angeles Raiders, as linebackers coach (1991), defensive coordinator (1992-93) and defensive line coach (1994). He was also the San Diego Chargers defensive line coach for six seasons (1985-90) after originally being hired by the team’s player personnel department.

In 1982, he entered the NFL coaching ranks when he joined the Baltimore Colts coaching staff as the team’s defensive line/linebackers coach from 1982-84, learning from the late Bud Carson. Before entering the NFL ranks, his previous pro coaching experience was as the defensive line/linebackers coach for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1981 with head coach Frank Kush, who also hired Cunningham in Baltimore.

As a college coach, Cunningham’s last stop was at California, where he coached the Bears defensive line from 1979-80, the linebackers in 1978 and secondary in 1977. Prior his stop in Berkeley, Cunningham coached at Stanford from 1973-76. He was hired by head coach Jack Christensen, a Hall of Fame defensive back for the Detroit Lions in the 1950s. While at Stanford, he coached the defensive line from 1974-76 and was the assistant offensive line and freshmen coach during his first year in 1973.

Cunningham worked at the University of Arkansas in 1972 on a staff headed by Frank Broyles that included Joe Gibbs and Raymond Berry. Prior to that, Cunningham began his coaching career at the University of Oregon, his alma mater, in 1969. He was with the Ducks program for three years from 1969-71 where he began his longtime relationship with another noted defensive coach, George Seifert. Cunningham was a graduate of Oregon and was a linebacker and kicker for the Ducks from 1966-68.

After playing his prep football at Lompoc High School in Lompoc, Calif., he was then recruited to play at Allan Hancock College by Hall of Fame coach John Madden. Madden left the school prior to Cunningham’s freshman year and was replaced as head coach by Ernie Zampese.

Cunningham became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 6, 2010 and is just one of four foreign-born individuals in League history to ever serve as an NFL head coach, joining Hugo Bezdek (Cleveland Rams, 1937-38), Jock Sutherland (Pittsburgh, 1946-47) and Al Saunders (San Diego, 1986-88). Born in Munich, Germany, he moved to Greenfield, Mass., at the age of 10 in 1956 with his mother, Katharina, and his adoptive father, Air Force Sergeant Garner Cunningham.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Gunther may be ‘old school’ but he’s basically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to defensive football. He will be a great addition to the PFF team.

  • NorthLeft

    I did not realize that Gunther has embraced the use of analytics in football. I was never a fan of his Lion coached defences. I always thought of him as an “old School” type coach.
    Best wishes on the next part of your career Gunther.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I’m curious as to who Gunther credits as being the main coaching influences over the course of his career. His hands on personal style is very similar to what George Allen used effectively with his defensive players, so I’m thinking he may have been one.