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Skol-astic Achievement: CR’s Guenther Helps Steer Viking Ship

Written by: on Friday, August 20th, 2021. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.


Published in the August 19th Bucks County Herald

Late in the 1989 football season, in front of a standing-room-only crowd in Langhorne, Council Rock upset favored Neshaminy 10-7.

Linebacker Paul Guenther anchored Council Rock.  James Franklin, then Neshaminy’s quarterback and now Penn State’s headman, would not be the last famous coach stymied by a Guenther defense.

“James and I keep in contact.  We obviously grew up playing football against one another.  I also played baseball and he was a pitcher too,” Guenther remembers.  “It was fun.”

As defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals or the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders from 2014-2020, Richboro’s Guenther helped defeat Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid, and Pete Carroll, to list a few men who have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

During the last seven of Guenther’s 13 seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals ranked in the top half of the NFL in the fewest points allowed.  His 2015 Bengals, winners of the AFC North, boasted the second stingiest defense in the NFL and the best ranked “D” in franchise history.

“We built through the draft.  We had a plan of what we were looking for through the draft.  We didn’t go out and spend a lot of money in free agency,” Guenther shared.  “We developed guys.  There wasn’t a lot of rash decision-making on players.

“They might not start right away.  They sit for a year, then play special teams or play in a certain package, and little by little you build up a defense where you’re two-deep.  They understand the system because they’ve been together for so long,” he concluded.

The Minnesota Vikings hired Guenther as a senior defensive assistant in February.  “I’m working with all three levels of the defense in different packages,” Guenther described.  “We really tweaked the overall look of our defense.”  Guenther’s working relationship with Viking head coach Mike Zimmer dates to 2008.

A coach’s son, Guenther started playing with the Northampton Indians football program at age five.  “I would travel with the coaches on Fridays to scout teams that we were playing,” Guenther recalled.  “Just to listen to those guys write the plays down.  That was my job sitting in the back seat.”

“There were times when he would call his own and check into his own defenses,” said Ursinus teammate and now Florida head coach Dan Mullen in a 2018 (italics) article.  “He was like, ‘This is what they’re going to run, this is the defense we want to run against it.’”

“Coming up through that and then through high school, I had an innate sense of formations and tendencies in teams.  I tried to help my teammates out and call the plays out before they happened.  A lot of the guys in high school text me that when I got into coaching, they weren’t surprised,” Guenther continued.  “I went on to play college and decided that that was what I wanted to do.  I knew I wasn’t going to make a lot of money and I had to sacrifice.”

Guenther is still Ursinus’ all-time leading tackler.  Ursinus tabbed 25-year-old Guenther to run their program, making him the youngest head coach in college football that season.

A connection with Steve Spurrier helped Guenther land an offensive assistant job with the Washington Redskins when the Head Ball Coach took that helm in 2002.

“I was going to take any job, anywhere to get into the NFL.  (Coaching offense) is probably one of the best things that happened to me.  Coaching defense, you have a good understanding of what the offense is doing and how they teach it,” Guenther explained.  “But learning the protections, the route concepts, what they teach quarterbacks, the footwork of the offensive linemen… then going back to the defense, realizing ‘Hey, this is the weakness of this protection or this coverage is good versus that’ just helped out so much.”

Guenther’s 2020- his last of three seasons as the Raiders defensive coordinator- was one he’d rather not repeat.  In addition to lockdowns, the Raider staff had to deal with the franchise moving from Oakland to Las Vegas.

“It was definitely the hardest year of coaching I ever had,” he admitted.  “We had three returning starters.  Going into an offseason trying to implement a scheme with all of these new and young players alike, talking to them through a Zoom screen and not being able to stand there, step with them, see their eyes and see what they were looking at…it was a big challenge.  We didn’t get to Vegas until the start of training camp so we had to move through Covid.”

Last season’s Viking defense was not the Purple People Eaters.  They ranked in the NFL’s bottom six in both points and yards allowed.  Yet they also suffered some of the statistically worst injury luck in the League.  Guenther, who is impressed with the level of communication on the defense, feels optimistic this Fall.  Many football pundits agree with his optimism.

“We have big guys in the middle of our defense.  We have good rushers.  A lot of these guys have been together for a long time in the system,” Guenther noted.  “You can give them something new every day, they’ll study it and they’ll ask questions.  These guys are smart.  They’re good workers.  It’s a pleasure to coach these guys.”

The Vikings’ November 7th game at Baltimore gets Guenther reasonably close to his roots.  Guenther still gets back home to Bucks County and vacations at the Jersey Shore.

Minnesota coincidentally opens against Guenther’s prior employer, the Bengals, on September 12th.  “The fans out here are unbelievable.  You go to our practices.  They’re packed in the stands,” Guenther praised.  “They’re doing that ‘Skol’ chant.  As a visiting coach, every time I left here, I heard that horn they play in my head for three days!  It does unify the community and I think it brings people together.”

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