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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Cunningham hopes to overcome upsetting offseason

August 30, 2000

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— On a family vacation in Hawaii, two days were all Gunther Cunningham could stand.

"I started calling the office and I couldn't wait to get back," said the hard-charging workaholic who coaches the Kansas City Chiefs.

Images probably have been exaggerated of a bleary-eyed Cunningham drawing up plays at 3 a.m., but how many NFL head coaches have had so much change, disruption and sorrow to deal with?

The Chiefs blew a 17-0 lead at home to Oakland in the regular-season finale and finished 9-7, out of the playoffs. Less than two months later, the death of nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas cut through Cunningham's heart like a knife. The two were very close; he may not be entirely over the grieving process yet.

Just a few days after Thomas' death, a blood clot passed through the heart of left guard Dave Szott, who wouldn't decide to resume his Chiefs' career until training camp had started in July.

Then later in the spring, embarrassing, distracting scandals involving three key members of the 1999 team erupted:

Tamarick Vanover pleaded guilty to a stolen car charge and promised to cooperate in a federal probe.

On Aug. 14, Bam Morris pleaded to charges of conspiring to sell 100 kilos of marijuana.

A few hours after the Chiefs broke training camp in July, they unexpectedly released wide receiver Andre Rison, who looked rejuvenated and more energetic than he'd been in two years. Then it was discovered that prosecutors were about to charge him with passing more than $150,000 in bad checks.

Add to that all the usual comings and goings of a busy organization and who can blame Cunningham for burning midnight oil by the barrel?

"Five new coaches, six new personnel people, a new director of football operations," Cunningham said. "We've rebuilt the training room downstairs, built an extra practice field and knocked down half the parking lot."

KC went 0-4 in exhibition games for the first time in team history and then kept the top eight picks from last spring's draft.

Altogether, there will be 18 new players on the 53-man roster. Five newcomers could start on defense, including third-year cornerback Eric Warfield, who replaces Cris Dishman.

Although they've missed the playoffs three of the past four seasons, the Chiefs are setting their sights high.

"This is the deepest team I've ever seen," said Lew Bush, the former San Diego linebacker who has taken over at Thomas' position. "It would be a very, very big disappointment if we don't win the division this year."

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