Cunningham gets seat, McMahon job, for a week

November 03, 1992|By Tim Panaccio | Tim Panaccio,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- Stunning Randall Cunningham -- and a few hundred thousand Philadelphia Eagles fans -- coach Rich Kotite reversed himself yesterday and announced that he will not start the moody, sensitive and slumping quarterback Sunday against the Los Angeles Raiders.

And if that were not enough to set the Eagles spinning, Kotite added a little extra twist to the soap opera.

The coach said that he would start backup quarterback Jim McMahon on Sunday but that Cunningham would return to his starter's role in two weeks when the Eagles travel to Milwaukee to play the Green Bay Packers.

Cunningham reacted with bitterness.

Kotite benched the Eagles' usually dazzling quarterback for the entire second half of Sunday's dispirited loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Texas, but moments after the game, Kotite vowed that Cunningham would lead the team this Sunday and would not be removed from the starter's role he has held since 1987. But a fitful night's sleep changed his mind.

"I thought about it all night and all this morning," Kotite said at his weekly news conference.

"I told him [Cunningham] I'm going to have Jim start this week and have him back off. I think the kid needs to back off and maybe take some pressure off himself. That's why I did it."

Sunday's benching and yesterday's announcement culminated an amazing tailspin for Cunningham, one of the NFL's most acclaimed quarterbacks who appeared to be better than ever after returning from knee surgery at the beginning of this season. Only four weeks ago, the Eagles were 4-0 under Cunningham and were giddy with anticipation about the rest of the NFL campaign.

But the Eagles have lost three of their past four games under Cunningham, primarily because their offense has been wretched. Their record is 5-3 and their locker room gloomy with a sense that the team's big chance for the Super Bowl is fading.

Kotite strove to quash the quarterback controversy by saying it did not exist. He said Cunningham simply needs to regain focus and confidence and will be back in two weeks.

But the unofficial rules of quarterback controversies say that if one party feels there is one, then there is one.

Is there one, Cunningham was asked?

"It's started, man, so let's get it going," he said in the locker room playfully, and then turned somber.

"If he [Kotite] thinks that a week off will help me, he doesn't know me as well as I thought he knew me," Cunningham said.

Asked whether he wanted to start, Cunningham replied, "You got that right. I don't want to sit on the bench and it's not because of the splinters."

Cunningham said Kotite made a promise to him at the beginning of the season.

"Richie told me at the beginning of the season if we're gonna go to the Super Bowl, you're the only one to take us there," Cunningham said. "Well, I'm not in the starting lineup so, what does that tell you?"

At least one Eagles offensive player, speaking anonymously, said the decision to start McMahon was welcomed.

"It's about time," he said. "Only Kotite ought to have the [nerve] to say that McMahon is the starter now, not just say it's a one-game thing. Do you honestly think that if Jim has a giant game next week,

that Randall will be back in as starter the following week? If Kotite does that, he's crazy."

Kotite was asked about it.

"I know the hypothetical question is what if McMahon does great," Kotite said. "Well, I don't deal in hypothetical questions.

"More than anything, the thing that upsets me is what's happened to us offensively," Kotite said. "The first four games, we did a heck of a job. The last four, we have just, I don't know what it is, lost confidence, lost our continuity. But it is something I am very eager to rectify."

Kotite is perplexed with Cunningham at this point. The quarterback seems healthy, his spirits have been as good as can be expected and he is reportedly throwing well in practice.

Cunningham said he'll shoulder some of the blame for the team's slump, but not all of it. He hinted that some other NFL quarterbacks -- Washington's Mark Rypien comes to mind -- have struggled this year, but are still in the lineup.

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