Carl Peterson hopes firing Gunther Cunningham and courting Vermeil, his longtime friend and the former St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl coach, is a back-to-the-future decision that will bring the Chiefs what they have lacked during Peterson's 12-year reign as Chiefs' general manager -- postseason success. I have a feeling it means we're headed the same direction as the DeLorean.
Excuse the yawn, but unless Dickie V. is bringing Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner and that stable of track stars the Rams call wide receivers, I don't see a Super Bowl in the Chiefs' near future. I also don't see much of a difference between Vermeil and Cunningham. Both are workaholics who spend more time at the office than the furniture. Both coaches are also more emotional than the last five minutes of a Jerry Lewis telethon. Sure, Vermeil has coached two different teams to the Super Bowl, but is it realistic to expect him to return to a third at the age of 64?
The Philadelphia Eagles were 4-10 and 5-9 in Vermeil's first two seasons and made the playoffs with a 9-7 record in his third. The Rams were 5-11 and 4-12 in Vermeil's first two seasons but won the Super Bowl in his third. Cunningham was 9-7 and 7-9 in his first two years with the Chiefs. As Vermeil's four-win second season with the Rams came to an ugly end, his team disintegrated and came close to mutiny. Vermeil's job in St. Louis was in jeopardy at the end of the 1998 season.
Here's an excerpt from a Bernie Miklasz column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just two years ago, near the end of Vermeil's second season as the Rams' head coach:
"It's another wacky week in [St. Louis]. Defensive tackle Joe Phillips (the former Chiefs nose tackle) brazenly took on his head coach in the newspaper, criticizing Dick Vermeil for training camp abuses. And starting cornerback Todd Lyght skipped Monday's workout. It's obvious that DV has lost control of the team. The players don't fear their head coach. They can do what they want. No need to worry about getting benched or cut. The lack of respect for Vermeil is flagrant."
Sound familiar? Kansas City cornerback James Hasty went public with his criticism of Cunningham's coaching style in late December, shortly after the Chiefs fell on their faces in Atlanta and closed out a disappointing 7-9 campaign that included losses to three teams that finished last in their divisions: San Diego, San Francisco and the Atlanta. Hasty said that Cunningham used the word "I" too often when referring to his Chiefs. Kimble Anders and Donnie Edwards, two more high-profile Chiefs, also had some harsh words about Cunningham's ability to lead the Chiefs out of mediocrity.
Vermeil survived the criticism leveled at him in St. Louis to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in his third year. Cunningham did not get the chance to see what his third year would bring.
How did Vermeil do it? He hired a guy by the name of Mike Martz to direct his offense, and then he went out and acquired some incredible weaponry to execute it. Vermeil picked North Carolina State wide receiver Torry Holt sixth overall in the first round, added quarterback Trent Green and offensive guard Adam Timmerman through free-agency signings, and traded for Faulk, a Pro Bowl running back.
It also didn't hurt that Warner fell into Vermeil's lap, going from grocery store stock boy to Super Bowl MVP almost overnight.
Maybe Vermeil can do the same with the Chiefs, but unless Todd Collins, the Chiefs' backup quarterback, has been at Hy-Vee working his canned-corn passing game with wide-out stock boys, I think we're in for more of the same -- lots of promises and very few postseason presents.
Salary cap problems make it all but impossible this year for the Chiefs to duplicate the free-agent signings Vermeil performed in St. Louis. The Chiefs' formidable offensive line probably will also have a new look next fall with Dave Szott's departure, Tim Grunhard's probable retirement and Will Shields' free-agent status. Losing those three stalwarts will make even a .500 season a tough task for Vermeil -- not to mention what it will do to the health of the Chiefs' fragile signal caller, Elvis Grbac.
Can Vermeil find a running back to once and for all kill the Chiefs' dreaded running-back-by-committee? Can Vermeil coax Grbac to do more than put up pretty numbers? Can Vermeil find a defensive coordinator as good as Gunther Cunningham to revive the slumbering Chiefs' defense?
Vermeil swears his fire still burns and that he made a mistake in retiring from the Rams last January. "If I had known I was going to be going back (to coaching), I never would have left," Vermeil recently explained to ESPN Radio. Vermeil may wish he had never un-retired when he gets a good look at what awaits him inside Arrowhead. And if he manages only nine wins in his first two years here in Kansas City as he did in St. Louis and Philadelphia, he most likely will spend the holiday season of 2002 holed up inside his suburban Kansas City home reading about his impending firing on the Internet.
Did you know? Dick Vermeil has been Coach of the Year on four levels: high school, junior college, NCAA Division I and the NFL. He also was the first full-time special teams coach in NFL history with the Rams under head coach George Allen in 1969.