NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Gunther Cunningham is proof that time, and a healthy lack of ego, can heal any pain.
Cunningham first came to coach in Tennessee bitter and upset over being fired as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He returns on Monday night to coach against the Titans as defensive coordinator of the Chiefs, and he said Tuesday it will be especially emotional for him.
``I tell you, it took me 10 hours to say goodbye to the support people in that facility when I went back. You just can't imagine, when you get to be my age and you feel like your whole life has fallen apart professionally, and you meet people like I met down there,'' he said.
``And that starts with the head coach.''
Cunningham credits Titans coach Jeff Fisher with resurrecting his career by hiring him as linebackers coach in 2001 shortly after the Chiefs fired him after a 16-16 record in two seasons. Cunningham learned of his firing on the Internet.
He came to Nashville, a short drive from where his mother lived, and took over a veteran group of linebackers. The Titans switched gears in 2002 and went younger with Keith Bulluck and Peter Sirmon.
``He had a real way of forming a special bond with each person and kind of figuring out what each person's personality was and pulling you aside at the right time,'' Sirmon said.
Cunningham said being on Fisher's staff revived his love of the sport.
I walked into the room every day or into the office and it was camaraderie, it was respect and it was people feeling about the game like I feel about it,'' he said.That is when I decided I could do anything.''
Even going back to Kansas City. He wanted the chance to prove that he could succeed, so he took over the same job he held between 1995 and 1998, even though he also had been talking about a similar position with the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons.
Cunningham hasn't had much success yet with a defense where the personnel didn't change from last year despite finishing 29th. He joked that the worst thing in Kansas City has been the room where coaches eat at night.
``Every once in a while I go in there, and there are all these former head coaches' pictures up there and I am between Marty (Schottenheimer) and Dick Vermeil. And I keep thinking I am dead every time I see it. You are not supposed to come back and see that picture on the wall,'' he said.
``That is the only time I think about it, but it has been great.''
The linebacking corps the Titans (4-8) put on the field against Kansas City (4-8) won't feature the starters Cunningham coached last season. Sirmon is out after tearing his left ACL in July, and middle linebacker Rocky Calmus tore his left hamstring last week, putting him out for the rest of the season.
Only Bulluck remains healthy. He took a moment on Thanksgiving to call Cunningham and thank him for helping him reach the Pro Bowl last season, and Bulluck said people just need to be patient for success to follow in Kansas City.
I told him that it's hard times everywhere, so I know he takes losing very tough and especially (since) he feels people brought him in to do a job and ... nobody feels worse than he does,'' Bulluck said.He knows the name of the game. He's been here 21 years. It's football. You have your ups and your downs.''
For Cunningham, it's definitely going back up.