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Emotive Vermeil Back in Full Cry

Dick Vermeil had his chance to go out on top.

He took it.

Now he has thrown it back.

The desire to write his own final chapter lost out to a more powerful craving, one Bill Parcells recently likened to addiction--the yearning to be part of the action.

It also lost to Vermeil’s famous emotions.

When two old friends from his days with UCLA and the Philadelphia Eagles came calling last week, the answer Vermeil gave Kansas City Chief executives Carl Peterson and Lynn Stiles was yes.

“From UCLA to the Eagles and now back in Kansas City,” Vermeil said, tearing up twice as he was formally introduced as the Chiefs’ coach Friday, less than a year after announcing his retirement two days after the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl.

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“The fact I changed my mind was based solely upon my personal relationship with Carl Peterson and Lynn Stiles.”

Not everyone saw it--though Ram receiver Az-Zahir Hakim says he sensed it every time Vermeil came around this season--but Vermeil’s year away only served to reveal how strongly his identity had become linked to coaching.

“I missed being a leader. I missed being with the players,” said Vermeil, who at 64 agreed to a three-year deal worth a reported $10 million, insisting he has the energy to see it through.

Terry Donahue, another former UCLA coach and good friend, didn’t particularly expect Vermeil to come back, but was hardly stunned.

“Dick’s an emotional guy,” Donahue said. “Football gets in your system, in your blood, and it’s very difficult to get it out.

“I don’t think Dick sat around wanting to get back in it. I don’t think it was until Carl Peterson and Lynn Stiles talked to him.”

Peterson, the Chiefs’ president and general manager, was Vermeil’s receivers coach at UCLA in 1974 and ’75.

After the Bruins won the 1976 Rose Bowl, he followed Vermeil to the NFL as an Eagle assistant before becoming Philadelphia’s director of player personnel in 1977.

Stiles, the Chiefs’ vice president of football operations, was another member of Vermeil’s staff with the Bruins and Eagles, handling the special teams for the 1980 Philadelphia team that reached the Super Bowl.

Stiles also worked with Vermeil in St. Louis until Vermeil retired last year.

“Let me tell you--Lynn Stiles has been so important in my career,” Vermeil said. “For me to come back and help this club is a way for me to pay that debt I owe him.”

So after twice walking away from coaching--the first when he resigned as the Eagles’ coach in 1983 to spend the next 14 years as a broadcaster--Vermeil is back once more.

Whether he will be able to duplicate the success he had with the Rams by winning the Super Bowl--or even reach the championship game again as he did with the Eagles--is another matter.

The Chiefs haven’t made the playoffs the last three seasons, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1993.

True, the Rams were 6-10 the season before Vermeil took over in St. Louis.

They went 5-11 and 4-12 in Vermeil’s first two seasons before they broke through to go 13-3 and win the Super Bowl.

But that was also the season they added the players who would become the NFL’s next two most valuable players--Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. (Warner was on the team the previous season but appeared in only one game, not getting his opportunity until the next season when newcomer Trent Green was injured.)

The Chiefs?

They were 7-9 this season and going the wrong direction, winning only two of their last eight games.

The highlight of their season was a 54-34 victory over the Rams--a game in which Warner broke his finger--and the beginning of the end for the Rams.

The Chiefs went on to lose to San Diego--the only NFL team that did.

They ranked eighth in the NFL in total offense and have a solid quarterback--the somewhat underrated but injury-prone Elvis Grbac--but they desperately need a dominant running back.

And at a time when defense is suddenly very much in vogue, the Chiefs were 18th in total defense.

The special teams, too, are troubled.

“I have no idea how close or how far away the Chiefs are right now,” Vermeil said. “I saw them play once [his past season] and they beat Carolina, which I was impressed with because I know how much trouble the Rams had with them. But there’ll be plenty of time to dive into personnel matters.”

They’ll be diving in without a second-round pick this year.

That’s because the Rams will receive that selection along with a 2002 third-round pick in compensation for Vermeil returning to coaching while still under contract to the Rams--officially as a consultant. (Vermeil also will repay the $500,000 he had received as part of the $2-million consulting deal the Rams gave him when he retired.)

A second-round pick might not sound like much, but consider: Former second-round picks on the Ram roster include receiver Isaac Bruce, cornerbacks Dexter McCleon and Dre Bly and fullback Robert Holcombe.

Vermeil is emphatic that his retirement last year wasn’t part of a preconceived plan to join the Chiefs, and the Rams insist Vermeil wasn’t nudged out to make way for Mike Martz, who had been designated as his successor.

But Martz was given much of the praise for last season’s success, while Vermeil was credited mainly with learning to back off on the lengthy practices.

After the Rams’ struggles this season, it’s tempting to reassess.

Vermeil’s chances of going out a winner again aren’t that great, but his return shouldn’t diminish what he accomplished by winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

But if the Chiefs were to reach the Super Bowl or even a conference championship game in the next three years, that would be something to shout about.

In this case, crying also would be considered appropriate.


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