From The Stables: Game Day Edition

The Chiefs are at a crossroads in their season. They are 2-2 and about where most Chiefs fans thought they'd be before the season started. What happens on Sunday will determine if this team continues down the road it has followed the last two games or if they can turn it around.

This week's pre-game From the Stables examines what the columnist in the Washington Post have to say about this week's game vs the Redskins from the DC point of view. Leonard Shapiro writes a fascination piece on the paths Dick Vermeil and Joe Gibbs took to get to their current positions in the NFL.

DATELINE: Washington Post by Leonard Shapiro
Dick Vermeil had already retired prematurely from pro football for a second time following the 1999 season when he got a call one day from Pepper Rodgers, then working for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. They wanted Vermeil to look at a list of coaches to replace Norv Turner, whom Snyder had fired with three games remaining in the 2000 season. Vermeil called longtime friend Carl Peterson, then and now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, and told him that he had recommended Marty Schottenheimer for the Redskins' vacancy.

"I asked Dick if they'd asked him if he was interested in the [Redskins] job," Peterson recalled this week. "Dick said they did, and then he said, 'But I couldn't work for a guy like Dan Snyder.'" That was good news for Peterson, who had worked for Vermeil as an assistant coach at UCLA in the mid-1970s and also had been with him during Vermeil's first NFL go-round, with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976 to '82.

Peterson had often called Vermeil after the coach left the Rams following their Super Bowl victory at the end of the '99 season, and the news that Vermeil had even considered talking to the Redskins about a possible return made him believe Vermeil was still thinking about coaching again himself. Peterson eventually hired Vermeil in 2001 to replace Gunther Cunningham, a move he has never regretted, even if the Chiefs have only gone to the playoffs once in his four full seasons as their head coach. Kansas City (2-2) once again has postseason aspirations despite losses in the past two games, and Peterson has no doubt that Vermeil, 68, is still the right man for the job.

He also believes 64-year-old Joe Gibbs already is emerging as the perfect fit for the Redskins, despite last year's 6-10 record in his first year back. He sees distinct similarities between the oldest coaches in the NFL, well beyond the fact that both initially left the game suffering from burnout and health problems. Vermeil went 15 years between NFL gigs when he came back to the Rams in 1997; Gibbs had been out of the game and focused entirely on his NASCAR operation since he retired following the '92 season.

"Obviously the biggest change for both of them coming back was the salary cap and free agency," Peterson said. "Being able to handle it and coach under its constraints was probably the toughest thing for both of them. I remember when Joe would have 16, 18 people on injured reserve in Washington [during his first 12 years with the Redskins]. They were coaching to win now, but they were also building a team for next year, too, because you could do it that way. With the cap, it doesn't work like that any more."

Vermeil and Gibbs have become friends over the years. It began when Vermeil was working as a broadcaster and occasionally was assigned to Redskins games. He said whenever he came to Washington in the 1980s and early '90s, he would always try to arrive on Friday and spend two days with Gibbs and his staff and immerse himself in football discussions. When Gibbs stunned the football world by returning to the sideline last year, Vermeil often peppered him with research he had commissioned for himself. Every week, he still sends him information, some of its compiled by Stats Inc., and as Gibbs said, Vermeil is particularly infatuated with statistics involving turnovers and teams' chances of winning when they have forced more than they commit.

"We used to talk a lot when he was doing TV work," Gibbs said this week. "I always appreciated him because he's so honest and frank. I thought he was really a sharp and squared-away guy. We shared a lot in common and when I came back, to be truthful, I think he probably talked to me more than anyone else."

Vermeil essentially offered the same description of Gibbs earlier this week, saying "we probably believe in a lot of the same concepts. The toughest part for me [when he initially came back in '97] was recognizing how much bigger and faster all the players are. They all look so much better to you when you first see them than when you were coaching before because we didn't have any 300-pound guys who can move like they move today."

Vermeil also struggled mightily the first time he returned to St. Louis in '97. His teams were 5-11 in 1997 and 4-12 in '98, and there was talk that he might not last the full '99 season. Then Kurt Warner came out of nowhere to lead the Rams to the '99 Super Bowl championship, and Vermeil's decision to hold shorter practices and meetings that season also was cited as a major reason for the Rams' success.

Gibbs also has said he learned from many of the mistakes he made last year. He also has changed his own approach in certain areas this season, including his own performance on game day involving clock management, replay challenges and substitutions.

"I think the NFL changes about roughly 30 percent a year," Gibbs said. "I was out for 11 years, so you figure it out. I knew when I came here I was pretty much going to be starting from scratch. But the one thing that hasn't changed is human nature. The same thing motivates all of us. You're looking for the right people, with the right character and the right heart."

From the Stables: A great story about two winners who are still going strong even in their 60's. I know there has been grumbling from some Chiefs fans who are starting to question if the game has passed Dick Vermeil by, but without a doubt; the fire still remains with Vermeil and he is an unquestioned leader. A team can't go wrong with either Joe Gibbs or Vermeil. Enjoy the game knowing that you are seeing two hall of fame coaches going head-to-head against each other. You don't see a coaching matchups like this every week. And it might be the last time you do.

Dateline Washington Post by Leonard Shapiro
Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that "it doesn't look good" for veteran cornerback Shawn Springs to play tomorrow against the Kansas City Chiefs. Springs suffered a bruised shin in practice three days before the Redskins lost to the Denver Broncos last Sunday, then aggravated the injury in the first quarter and left the game. Springs wasn't able to practice for a third straight day and likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by cornerback Walt Harris, who has missed the past two games because of a bruised calf. Harris, who opened the season as a starter, has been able to get back on the field this week, and Gibbs said yesterday, "Walt is okay, he's fine."

Rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers, the team's first-round draft pick, was back at practice toward the end of the week and likely will start. Ade Jimoh, who replaced Springs against Denver, likely will be the nickel back. Springs was listed as questionable yesterday, but when asked about his status, he smiled and said: "I've gotta be mute. They're keeping me under wraps."

From the Stables: Do you think we'll see Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders going after the injured Redskins cornerbacks with Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker? You have to believe that we'll see a return of Gonzalez to the Chiefs offense with Willie Roaf back at LT. A good healthy dose of Priest Holmes mixed with a little Larry Johnson along with some Gonzalez and Kennison has carried the offense for the Chiefs the last few years and knowing Dick Vermeil, I think you could wager he'll return to those roots on Sunday.

Check back next week as I hope we see some comments from Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon from the Washington Post in regard to the Chiefs/Redskins game. What will the Washington DC press have to say about the Chiefs/Redskins game and what kind of spin will they put on the game? Warpaint Illustrated's From the Stables will be there to shine the light on them.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories