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KC Star: Gibbs, Vermeil to meet again


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Comeback kids

Seasoned coaches adjusted after absences



The Kansas City Star

Twenty-four years have passed since the first time Dick Vermeil and Joe Gibbs were opposing head coaches and 23 years since the last.

No matter. Neither Vermeil nor Gibbs will have any trouble identifying the other’s indelible marks on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium when the Chiefs meet Washington.

“We probably believe in a lot of the same concepts,” Gibbs said. “When he was at Philly, we had some classic battles.”

Vermeil, 68, and Gibbs, 64, are the NFL’s oldest head coaches. Only two other current head coaches, Dallas’ Bill Parcells and San Diego’s Marty Schottenheimer, held such jobs as far back as the 1980s.

That makes the four regular-season games in 1981 and 1982 between Vermeil’s Eagles and Gibbs’ Washington teams — Gibbs leads the series 3-1 — seem ancient.

They are the old guard and represent an NFL era when football was a different game. It may be no coincidence that each struggled initially after returning to coaching after a lengthy absence.

“The toughest part for me was recognizing how much bigger and faster all the players are,” Vermeil said. “They all look so much better to you when you first see them than when you were coaching because we didn’t have any 300-pounders who could move like they move today.

“It’s still the same game, but it takes a while to get back — it did for me, anyway — into the total picture, the understanding of the differences in the game today, how it’s played, how people do so much more with their athletes. You have more players to coach, you have a practice squad, there’s more media, those kinds of distractions. But the core of the game is still the same, but you see so much more on a given day offensively and defensively than you used to see. It’s more of a year-round program in the NFL today.”

Vermeil, who sat out 14 seasons before returning with St. Louis in 1997, adapted eventually. After a rough couple of seasons, Vermeil rebounded to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl championship.

Gibbs went 6-10 last season, his first back after initially retiring in 1992. But Washington is now 3-1 and tied for first place in the NFC Eastern Division.

“I think the NFL changes at roughly 30 percent a year,” Gibbs said. “I was out for 11 years, so you figure it out. I knew I was going to be starting pretty much from scratch.

“The way you get players is totally different. The draft is much shorter. We have free-agency, which I love. We got 11 free agents the first year. We couldn’t do that in the old days. Technically, on the field, the game has changed because of forcing defenses. Nobody is sitting and reading.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed is human nature. The same things motivate us. You’re looking for the right people with the right character and the right heart.”

Chiefs secondary coach Vernon Dean played for Gibbs for six seasons and was a member of two of Gibbs’ Super Bowl winning teams. This week Dean turned on a DVD of his former team and was struck by how little had changed since Gibbs’ retirement in 1992.

“He’s preaching the same things,” Dean said. “His philosophy hasn’t changed. He wants to move the chains and keep control of the ball. He wants to be physical up front and play good defense. He’ll take his shots deep whenever he can.

“That’s indicative of the way they’ve been playing. There are definitely some similarities between his old teams and the one he has now.”

Vermeil showed Gibbs the way despite some rough moments in his early days with the Rams and since coming to the Chiefs. He was one of the first to call Gibbs after he accepted the plea to return from Washington owner Dan Snyder.

“I didn’t think he’d have any problem if he surrounded himself with good coaches and good people,” Vermeil said. “He certainly did, and they were mostly people he knew. He put a great defensive staff together. He went about evaluating personnel, although he had some injuries last year and they were looking for people just to line up and play. They’ve stayed healthy this year.”

Gibbs could have used Vermeil’s experience after his return as a guide but stayed away from that, deciding to come back to coaching on its own merits.

“I didn’t spend as much time thinking about that,” Gibbs said. “It was more my own personal situation. I had no clue for 11 years I’d ever come back.

“He was one of the few people that called me to talk things over and encourage me, particularly when we went through such a tough time last year. I think he kind of sympathized with what I was going through.”

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