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Could Gunther Cunningham return to Lions in 2014?

Don't close the door on the possibility of Gunther Cunningham returning as the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, when the Detroit Lions fired head coach Jim Schwartz, they also parted ways with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide receivers coach Tim Lappano. There was also talk that defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and other assistants were let go by the Lions, but that didn't turn out to be accurate. All of the Lions' other coaches remain under contract for the time being.

In Cunningham's case, he's under contract through the 2014 season, according to MLive. This doesn't mean that he will for sure be back next season, though. Martin Mayhew made it clear on Monday that the new head coach will have the final say on his staff. Theoretically, the new head coach could come in and clean house and bring in all new guys. He could also let a few people go but retain others, which seems to be the most likely scenario.

What's interesting, as noted by MLive, is that Cunningham was actually retained as defensive coordinator by a new head coach back when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs. Herm Edwards was hired by the Chiefs and subsequently decided to keep Cunningham around as part of his new coaching staff. The Lions' new head coach will at the very least have to hire an offensive coordinator, but it's possible he could elect to simply retain Cunningham as the defensive coordinator.

Letting Cunningham go or bringing him back will ultimately depend on who the head coach deems to be the best candidate for the defensive coordinator job. If he's already got someone in mind for the position, chances are Cunningham's days in Detroit will be over. However, if the new head coach's plans aren't set in stone, perhaps we could get to see what Cunningham's defense looks like without Schwartz influencing it.

The Lions were quite good against the run this past season, but they struggled against the pass, and they could have done a better job in the sacks department. It's never really been clear how much of this defense was Cunningham's and how much of it was Schwartz's, but at least it did show some improvement in 2013. It remains to be seen if that will be enough to buy Cunningham another year and a spot on the new head coach's staff, but perhaps this isn't the end of the road for him in Detroit.

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