Vermeil's timeline for success makes Chiefs dangerous

Monday, August 4, 2003

RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Dick Vermeil is approaching his 67th birthday, yet the spring is back in his step.

With the energy of a man 20 years his junior, he dashes back and forth around the Kansas City practice field shouting instruction and encouragement to what could be the third different team he takes to the Super Bowl.

"I really think we have the makings of a good football team," he said. "Does that mean we'll win? No, not necessarily. But I think the ingredients are there."

If the 2003 Chiefs do make the leap from 8-8 mediocrity to Super Bowl entrant, Vermeil would be the first man in NFL history to get there with three different teams.

"Why not just go ahead and do it?" he said somewhat playfully. "I've always felt if you worked hard and stuck to your plan, good things usually can happen."

Along with a retooled defense and such offensive All-Pros as Tony Gonzalez, Priest Holmes and Willie Roaf, Vermeil has his own coaching history to give Chiefs fans hope.

Third-year success

His third year has always been charmed. The Philadelphia Eagles, who hadn't had a winning season since 1966, made the playoff breakthrough in his third season in 1978.

The St. Louis Rams in his third season got all the way to the Super Bowl, and won -- a pattern that not just his fans have taken notice of.

"This is his third year with Kansas City, and we all know special things happen to Dick Vermeil teams in his third year," said cornerback Dexter McLeon.

McLeon played on Vermeil's Super Bowl team with the Rams. A desire to be reunited with his old coach was one reason he signed a free agent contract with Kansas City.

"I don't know of anyone who does not love playing for coach Vermeil," McLeon said. "You know he is always going to be honest with you."

The prospect of remaining with Vermeil was one reason 22-year veteran place kicker Morten Andersen elected to remain with the Chiefs this year.

"This is a Dick Vermeil team," Andersen said. "That means is has a chance to be a very special team."

Bonding with players

Forging close bonds with his players, becoming almost a father figure to some, has characterized Vermeil's style ever since his days as a high school coach more than 40 years ago.

"Football is about relationships," he has said.

Men he coached decades ago have raised families and forged successful career far from football. But they still stay in contact.

"When we go back to the East Coast to play," said quarterback Trent Green, "there are always guys who for played for him in Philadelphia who come out to see him. That just says a lot about him as a person, not only a coach. Even the guys he has to cut, he's right there trying to help them find another job."

Nobody is saying, "Let's win one for Vermeil." But putting a Third Super Bowl ring on his finger, which would probably ensure his future induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, does appear to be among the motivations.

"I think coach Vermeil's awesome," said defensive end Eric Hicks. "He's a guy who'll lay down in front of a car for you. If you practice hard and prepare hard and are committed, he'll be there for you the rest of your life. To have a coach like you behind you, you'll pretty much run through a wall for him."

When his old friend Carl Peterson talked him out of a one-year retirement to take over the Chiefs, Vermeil signed a three-year contract. After this year, the contract will be up.

But that doesn't necessarily mean his career is coming to an end.

"I would be lying if I didn't tell you that it does cross my mind out here, that I could be going through my last season," he said. "It sure might be. I did get awful tired sometimes last year. But who knows? I still enjoy what I'm doing."

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