Knowing the pressure his head coach was under to make a change he did not want to make, Robinson resigned Monday rather than put the man who had shown such loyalty to Robinson in a difficult position.
Vermeil was under intense pressure to replace Robinson -- who was fired by Denver after the 2000 season despite coordinating the Broncos in two Super Bowl campaigns -- after a 2002 season in which the 8-8 Chiefs had the league's worst defense. Vermeil stood by his man, however, saying the Chiefs needed better players to work in a Robinson scheme that would undergo adjustments.
"It was very, very special to me and my family the way Dick Vermeil so fiercely defended me when he made it known that my job was not in jeopardy," Robinson said. "You don't see that very often in this business."
But after making major free agent defensive acquisitions in Shawn Barber, Vonnie Holliday and Dexter McCleon, the Chiefs expected major defensive improvements in 2003. And while there were hints of it during the Chiefs' 9-0 start, when Kansas City amassed 26 turnovers and was among the league's best teams in taking the ball away, the blowup in the season's final seven games and one-and-out playoff appearance was dramatic.
Beginning with the 24-19 loss at Cincinnati, the Chiefs slide in yards and points allowed gained momentum in direct proportion to their inability to force turnovers.
They were fourth league-wide in points allowed (16.7) and only 20th in rushing defense before the Cincinnati loss. But in the 4-3 stretch run, they were gashed for 160 or more rushing yards five times and gave up 45 points twice in road losses to Denver and Minnesota. By season's end the Chiefs were 19th in points allowed (20.8), 30th in rushing defense and 29th overall in total defense.
When Robinson's defense failed to stop Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on any significant series in the 38-31 playoff loss, Robinson knew the groundswell of negative opinion after the '02 campaign had become a flood of discontent that Vermeil might not be able to contain in '03.
Robinson told Vermeil he was willing to step down just a couple hours after the playoff loss ended Kansas City's 13-4 season and first post-season appearance since the 1997 season.
"He immediately threw his arms up as if to stop me," Robinson recalled.
By Monday afternoon, however, after a long discussion with his wife Carol, Vermeil regretfully told Robinson that his offer was the correct thing to do.
"My hope," Robinson said, "was to unshackle him from all his beautiful loyalties and to think about what was right for the football team. And he did that."
Still, it was a painful decision for Vermeil. He choked back sobs while listening to Robinson's farewell address, then tearfully lashed out at media and players attending his own post-season press conference.
"Not many guys in this room would have had the (fortitude) to do what Greg did," Vermeil said.
"(It's) tough to say goodbye to Greg. I've watched him coach since he was a kid, when he came up to Philadelphia just to spend a day with a so-called genius. I love the guy, and I'm going to miss him."
But even Vermeil had to acknowledge that it would have been all but impossible for Robinson to coach in the hostile atmosphere that led to the Chiefs defense being booed at Arrowhead in the playoff game.
"It would have been very tough, and Greg and I agreed on that," he said. "Any failure of the defense would have been automatically blamed on him, and that creates doubt among players and gives them an excuse to find someone else to blame.
"It would have been a wheel rolling downhill."
But Vermeil also called out the players who failed to make things work for Robinson, as well as accepting his own share of the blame.
"I feel very bad as a head coach that I wasn't able to make the kind of contribution to Greg and the defensive staff that could have prevented this situation today," he said. "Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick could do it, but I'm not a defensive football coach. I feel that I let Greg down, and his staff and my players.
"When our players are all done evaluating the situation, I say to them, 'Hold yourself accountable, too.' I'm certainly holding myself accountable, and I'm feeling a little guilty."