Gunther Cunningham obviously made a huge mark on the coaching landscape in the NFL. With a coaching career that nearly spanned 50 years, it’s clear he was a valued mind in the game of football.
But it’s clear his value went well beyond the football field. After it was announced on Monday that Cunningham has passed, there was an outpouring of great stories from people that Cunningham had personally touched during his coaching tenure, specifically during his seven years in Detroit.
So I thought it was important to share some of the memories those around Detroit had of Cunningham.
Let’s begin with the local Lions beat team. Both ESPN’s Michael Rothstein and the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers shared very personal stories that paint a clear picture of the kind of person Cunningham was.
Cunningham opened up to me in that interview about his upbringing, about his life since, what football meant to him and why it was so hard for him to think of going back to Germany. We also talked about the loss of parents and just...life. Because when you spoke with Gun...— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) May 13, 2019
The man also loved football and talked so passionately about it. Since I wasn’t covering him anymore we spent about two years trying to fit lunch into our schedules. But there were often conflicts — a work thing here, travel thing there. But we found time to catch up as much...— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) May 13, 2019
It had been a while since we texted — but I found the last one he sent in July. Thanking me for hanging in there with him and once again trying to plan out a lunch. I’m sad now that it’ll never happen. He was a good man and someone who I got to know much better post-coaching.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) May 13, 2019
I was really close to leaving journalism a few years back. Gunther Cunningham caught word and pulled me aside in a press box on the road and told me I would be making a big mistake. His opinion mattered to me and meant a lot. He will go down as one of my favorites to cover.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) May 13, 2019
Another Cunningham story. He had disagreed with one of my training camp observations regarding one of the team's young corners. Next day that corner made an impressive pass breakup. Gunther turned around and shouted, "Where's Justin? Tell him to write that in his damn notes."— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) May 13, 2019
Lions play-by-play voice Dan Miller also chimed in:
Been blessed in this business to meet amazing people. For whatever reason. Funny, smart, nice. Gunther Cunningham checked a lot of boxes. So much history and he'd share it at the drop of a hat. Loved the game. Loved his family. Loved to talk about all of it. RIP Gun.— Dan Miller (@DanMillerFox2) May 13, 2019
Some of his former colleagues and players also shared their thoughts on the life of Gunther Cunningham.
First, former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew:
The NFL lost another great coach this weekend. One of the best all around football coaches I have had the privilege to work with. He loved the game as much as anyone can. Rest in Power Gunther Cunningham. pic.twitter.com/ADahoyLSVJ— Martin Mayhew (@MartinMayhew35) May 13, 2019
And former Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead and defensive end Lawrence Jackson:
It hurts my heart to hear we’ve lost Gunther Cunningham. He may have come off as tough, but that was because he cared. Gun believed in me when many didn’t, and kept pushing me. For that I am forever grateful. My prayers are with the Cunningham family.— Tahir Whitehead (@Big_Tah47) May 13, 2019
Super sad to hear that we lost Coach Cunningham over the weekend. Gun was one of the realest coaches I knew, let alone played for. He coached you HARD but you loved it because you could feel his passion and love for the game. The game lost s real one. RIP Coach Gun— Lawrence Jackson (@LoJackson94) May 13, 2019
And his final employer, Pro Football Focus, released this statement on Cunningham:
Statement from PFF founder Neil Hornsby on the passing of Gunther Cunningham. pic.twitter.com/2No6XhjvQU— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 13, 2019
If you want to read more about Cunningham the person, the coach and the colleague, Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star wrote a very personal article on Monday.
You will be missed, coach.