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Gunther Cunningham: I should have helped Nick Fairley

Gunther Cunningham looks at Nick Fairley and regrets not stepping in before the talented defensive tackle got himself in trouble with a pair of offseason arrests.

"The disappointment that I have is that I bogged myself down in so much paperwork that I didn't see that coming," the Detroit Lions' defensive coordinator told the Detroit Free Press on Sunday. "And I should have seen it. With my experience, I should have understood."

Cunningham is a coaching lifer. He's been in the NFL in 19 of the past 20 seasons, and he's come across men in that time who were far worse off than Fairley.

"I'll give you one example, Dan Saleaumua," Cunningham said, referring to the Lions' seventh-round pick in 1987 who resurrected his career in Kansas City. "(The Lions) threw him out. He went to the Pro Bowl for me. Now he has a chain of, I think, 55 drug stores … and he runs them like a football team, and he's worth a lot of money. We didn't give up on him."

Cunningham sees Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure as players who need to learn how to live life in the NFL. Cunningham referred back to a lesson late Raiders owner Al Davis once taught him.

"Al Davis always put three fingers up," Cunningham said. "He said, 'Son, some day you're going to learn it takes three years how to learn and act to play in this game,' and he wasn't wrong. You can't give up just because a guy takes a wrong turn. You just gotta smack 'em upside the head or you gotta love 'em."

Fairley is lucky to have a coach in Cunningham who believes in him. The next question becomes whether he'll take the guidance his defensive coordinator can offer.

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