The Gun (Cunningham) show
New Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham spoke by teleconference with the Detroit media today. A few of the highlights:
On reuniting with Jim Schwartz, who he spent three seasons with in Tennessee: I worked for a guy named Marty Schottenheimer and working for Marty was probably the greatest thing I've ever done in the NFL. He and I got along tremendously. Jim Schwartz is like a reincarnation for me.
More on Schwartz: The relationship we developed at Tennessee is one of those things that comes to you about once in a lifetime in coaching. I was fired (in Kansas City) as the head coach and went to Tennessee and I had other opportunities, but at that point in my life I felt like I needed to go back and prove to myself who I was and what I was good at. And to go to Tennessee and to meet Jim Schwartz and to see what he was all about, and for him to accept me the way that he did and have him allow me to help and send him on his way, when I left there he called me on the phone in the car and we had this good-bye session and he said, 'Gun, I love you.' And when he said that, basically broke a guy that had been in the league for a long time.
On what went wrong in Kansas City this year, when his defense ranked 31st in the league: Some of the guys that we were playing just hadn't been there long enough and it made it really difficult to do that. When I look back in my history over the last couple of weeks of coaching, this year probably put more pressure on me to do as good a job of teaching and all those things combined as I've ever done. And going into the Lions, at least I've had that background. I've had a background coaching six or seven Pro-Bowl players on a team, and then coaching three, four, five rookies and seven first-year starters, it kind of teaches you what this game's all about.
On the personnel he's inheriting in Detroit: I know one thing that I liked (Cliff) Avril when he came out. I thought he was a special athlete and the ability to rush the passer. He's undersized, but you have to put him in the right position. I don't think it's any different than what the Pittsburgh Steelers did with (James) Harrison. He kind of bounced around there, got a couple sacks a year and Dick LeBeau did a great job of putting him in a place where you can use that. When you look at (Ernie) Sims, when he came out, I thought he was a human dynamo at the time. Well, you have to make sure you protect guys like that so they can make plays. And to me, with Jimmy and my's background of working together and him being a defensive coach, I'm sure we can go through and try to fit the players in the right position.
His defensive philosophies: I've gone through three years of playing zone defenses because I was loyal to Herm Edwards, that's what he wanted. People here in town knew that I was different than that. My idea is to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, always has been, always will be. I think Jimmy knows that and I think he's a lot like that, although he was more zone conscious this year than he's ever been. But like I said at the beginning of this conversation I think the two of us will sit down and we'll decide what is the best thing that we can do and that's going to involve the organization's part of whatever Tom (Lewand) and Martin (Mayhew) decide on who we draft on defense and who else we get and how we do it. But my idea of coaching defense, it's explosive, it's aggressive, it's to go after people and make the players do things that they don't think they can do.
Whether he was initially denied permission to speak with the Lions: "This has been going on for a few days, you guys know that. It came out on Friday so there were discussions. There were a lot of them. We got it done, and I think (Chiefs chairman) Clark Hunt was involved in all of it. And after speaking to him and what he said to me made me feel really good and I think he knows what I put into all of this and I think he wanted what's best for me and my family, and I think that's how it all came down at the end. But it took time.