Starts weak, but bonds strong for Schottenheimer, Vermeil

Old friends bid to 1-up each other as 0-2 Chiefs meet 0-2 Redskins today

NFL Week 3

September 30, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

If anyone knows what Marty Schottenheimer is feeling, it's Dick Vermeil.

The two longtime coaches, who personify the word "driven" in their own way, each stepped away from the NFL, seemingly never to return, only to be lured back by the game's siren call.

And as the two meet today at FedEx Field, with Schottenheimer's Washington Redskins playing host to Vermeil's Kansas City Chiefs, the longtime friends, who bonded when Vermeil did color commentary on Chiefs preseason games while Schottenheimer coached the team from 1989 to '98, have something else in common: Neither has a win.

Those who have played for both of them notice clear similarities.

"From being here, I've noticed that they're pretty similar, personality-wise. They're real sincere and real passionate about what they do," said Washington quarterback Tony Banks, who played for Vermeil for two seasons in St. Louis.

"He [Schottenheimer] probably knows my history a little better than some other guys because of Coach Vermeil. He's a good friend of mine, and I imagine [Vermeil] probably talked to Coach before he made this decision [to cut Jeff George last week and insert Banks as starter]."

Of the two, Vermeil, who was out of football for only a year after three seasons with the Rams, seems to have made the softest landing in his return by coming to Kansas City, where he's surrounded by friends, particularly team president Carl Peterson.

Still, Vermeil admits he had to be recruited.

"I didn't have any intention of going back into coaching, and I wouldn't have done it for anybody other than the Kansas City Chiefs organization, [owner] Lamar Hunt and Carl Petersen," he said. "I didn't apply for the job. They came after me, and they convinced me I was the right guy. Maybe it's ego. I don't know, but here I am. I'm 0-2, just like Marty."

Vermeil walked away from the Philadelphia Eagles 19 years ago with no regrets, becoming the dictionary definition of coaching burnout, only to return to the sideline in 1997 with the Rams, where his gung-ho style and rigid practice regimens resulted in near mutiny and whispers that the game had passed him by.

By the end of his third season in St. Louis, which concluded with a Super Bowl win, Vermeil thought he had had enough.

"At the time I stepped away, it wasn't that tough, because I had really convinced myself that it was the thing to do. And at the end of a long season and at the end of three years of rebuilding a program, I was drained. You know, I'm not a 47-year-old coach anymore," he said.

"I'm going to be 65 years old coming up here. You do get tired. I'm in good shape, but you get drained. And I get drained emotionally as well as physically, and at the end of that Super Bowl run and those three years, those first two years took ... an awful lot out of me. I'm pleased with the end result, and a lot of people made a tremendous contribution toward getting that done. But I was exhausted."

But the exhaustion didn't last long, and when Peterson, who had been an assistant with Vermeil at UCLA and with the Eagles, came calling, Vermeil listened.`The last time I made the decision to come back, I had been away for 14 years. This time, I had been away one year, and I missed being the leader. I missed the relationships with players and coaches. I missed competition. I missed being the boss," Vermeil said.

"When you've played those roles, and played them successfully, sometimes you don't feel quite as important personally as you did when you were in those roles. I felt I had something else to give, and, fortunately, Carl wanted me to do it, so here I am."

Oddly enough, Vermeil played an important role in ending Schottenheimer's two-year sabbatical by acting as a liaison between Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Schottenheimer.

Snyder talked to Vermeil in the off-season about the Washington job, left open when Norv Turner was fired late last season and interim coach Terry Robiskie wasn't retained. Vermeil turned Snyder down, but recommended Schottenheimer, who had said publicly that he could never work for Snyder.

"He [Snyder] asked me who I would hire and I said, `I would hire Marty Schottenheimer if I were you,' " said Vermeil. "`Just check out his win-loss record [150-98-1]. It's better than most in this business. He's a fine football coach.'

"I told the whole [Chiefs] squad, `I don't know much about the Redskins, but I know Marty Schottenheimer. He's a fine coach, a great man and a strong leader, and when we line up Sunday in Washington, those guys will be ready to play.' "(Redskins-Chiefs capsule, 16d)

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