Vermeil, who came out of his one-year retirement in 2001 after leading the 1999 St. Louis Rams to the NFL championship, signed a two-year extension after fulfilling the initial three years of his deal in 2003. That was a 13-3 campaign that ended with a one-and-done playoff appearance but proffered great promise for the following season.
That promise materialized only when it was way too late in 2004.
Despite entering training camp amid Super Bowl expectations, the Chiefs faltered badly in breaking from the gate to an 0-3 record, then 1-4 and ultimately 3-8. They won four straight down the stretch to make a run at mediocrity, but lost the season finale to San Diego's junior varsity players and limped to the finish line at 7-9. At no time in the season did they escape the losing side of the ledger.
It was a season, Vermeil admitted afterward, that made him wonder if he wanted to coach again in '05.
"There was a time in the middle of year when I didn't think I'd be back because we were struggling to get it going," he admitted. "But then we got it going again and I said, 'Maybe we can get this going to the point that we can come back next year and win it all.'"
Vermeil broke the news to his players at their annual season wrap-up meeting as he talked about getting the Chiefs back on the road they were on in '03 when they won their first nine games.
"I told them that I've got one year to go and I don't want to go out a loser," Vermeil said.
"He was very emotional about it," quarterback Trent Green said. "He said he feels this team is close and that he was going to do everything he could to get it done."
But promising to do it and getting it done are two different matters.
The Chiefs' problem, as everybody knows, is defense, and things there are getting worse, not better. Kansas City, under new/old coordinator Gunther Cunningham, fell from 29th last year under deposed coordinator Greg Robinson to 31st in total yards and dead-last in passing yards this past season. Kansas City declined appreciably in takeaways (37 last year, 21 in '04), points allowed (435 this past season to only 332 in '03) and passing yards (giving up 53 more per game).
Vermeil should know that a major transfusion of defensive talent is necessary if his '05 swan song will be anything but a mournful refrain of the '04 campaign in which the Chiefs simply didn't win when they couldn't score more than 27 points. (They also lost twice despite scoring 31 points.)
But he knew the same thing a year ago when the organization voluntarily elected to re-sign five potential free agents on defense (DT John Browning, DE Eric Hicks, SS Greg Wesley, FS Jerome Woods and CB William Bartee) rather than make a major push on the free-agent market (where they added budget basement DT Lional Dalton).
That gamble blew up in Kansas City's face this year, and yet Vermeil concluded the maddening season at his wrap up press briefing raving about his offense and talking about how lavish free-agent spending is often not productive and that the best approach is to retain the players you now have and know best.
It didn't sound like a coach with a handle on turning around a woeful defense. And if the Chiefs don't make some significant improvements defensively in '05, Kansas City fans may hold the door open as Vermeil -- 34-30 in his four KC seasons -- makes his voluntary departure.