Eagles see need for more unity, beginning with Cunningham

February 21, 1991|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- Several Philadelphia Eagles said yesterday that they agree with quarterback Randall Cunningham's recent statements that there is a need for more unity on the team. Some of those players said part of the problem is Cunningham himself.

Eagles defensive leader Reggie White said he still believed that Cunningham played a role in the dismissal of coach Buddy Ryan and called for a team meeting that would attempt to put the divided Eagles back together again.

Three Eagles veterans, who would not be identified, said Cunningham must show less ego and more leadership next season. One veteran defensive player said Cunningham has an "I, me" attitude that contributes to divisions within the team.

White confirmed Cunningham's earlier version of a conversation the two players had after Ryan was fired last month by owner Norman Braman. Cunningham said White had faulted him for publicly boosting Rich Kotite as a future NFL head coach two days before the Ryan firing.

"He was accurate about our conversation," White said from his home in Tennessee, alluding to a long discussion he said he had with Cunningham before the Feb. 2 Pro Bowl.

"I don't want to get into depth about what was said. It was between me and him, but it was more than just what he said about Rich and Buddy. It's real personal right now."

White stressed that he does not believe that Cunningham deliberately undermined Ryan but that he thinks the quarterback's remarks were ill-considered and poorly timed.

"I'm not upset about it," White said, "but there are things that will have to change on the team as a whole so we can regroup and get back on track to keep winning and, hopefully, get to a championship."

White said that he thought a players-only meeting would help when the Eagles assemble for the first of two four-day minicamps on April 1.

"We have to ask [new coach] Rich [Kotite] to let us do it, and I don't know if everything will be solved at that one meeting, but that's the place to begin, so players can get things off their chests," White said.

An Eagles spokesman said Cunningham was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Two Eagles were harshly critical of the quarterback, saying his ego sometimes gets in the way of his leadership.

One veteran defensive player said he was tiring of what he described as Cunningham's focus on himself rather than the team.

"It's like a virus that's been growing. Now that it's coming out, maybe it'll be a good thing," the defensive player said.

"A good example was the night before the Washington playoff game. Everyone gets up to say their little speech about what we have to do to win, to try to motivate the rest of the guys, and Randall gets up and starts rattling off his statistics. I was infuriated."

A second Eagle, who also heard Cunningham's speech, said he thought the quarterback's remarks were well-intentioned. But the same player said Cunningham often is too quick to credit himself for the team's successes.

"There's been a lot of 'I won the game, I did this,' " the player said. "And, sure, Randall accounts for 70 percent of the offense, but if the other 30 isn't there for him, he can't do his thing."

On the matter of Ryan's firing, Cunningham has said a number of times that when he spoke highly of Kotite's potential as a head coach the day after the Eagles' playoff loss, he was mindful of rumors that the then-offensive coordinator was in line for the coaching job in Cleveland.

The quarterback also has said he was afraid of losing another offensive coordinator.

For his part, White said he didn't entirely accept Cunningham's explanation.

"I feel Randall knew all along that Buddy was out and Rich was in," White said. "And this isn't a mark against Rich. He's a great motivator, and we all hoped that if Buddy did get fired, either [then-defensive coordinator] Jeff Fisher or Rich would get the job."

Fisher eventually left to become the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams.

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