Chiefs Make Room For Vermeil

Gunther Cunningham was fired Friday after two lackluster seasons as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who want Dick Vermeil as his replacement.

They might have to wait to hire Vermeil, who led St. Louis to last year's Super Bowl title, then retired.

Vermeil said Friday he wants to coach the Chiefs, but the Rams still have him under contract and have shown no willingness to release him.

"The Rams have asked the commissioner (Paul Tagliabue) to resolve their dispute with the Chiefs over Dick Vermeil's status," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in New York.

The Chiefs announced on their Web site the firing of Cunningham, who worked for 30 years as an assistant before getting his head coaching opportunity.

No news conference was planned, and Cunningham's wife said he would have no immediate comment. Cunningham has been at home since Thursday, when he went to work at Arrowhead Stadium and read reports of his imminent firing on the Internet.

Team president Carl Peterson said in a statement that the decision to fire Cunningham was "difficult because my relationship with Gunther dates far back before he ever came to Kansas City and was one of the reasons that he came here prior to the 1995 season."

"As such, I feel a personal sadness that it didn't work out," Peterson said. "But my responsibility is to see to it that we get this football team back to where it was and beyond. That responsibility outweighs any personal feelings."

Peterson and Vermeil have been close friends for more than 25 years. They coached together at UCLA during the 1970s, and when Vermeil led the 1980 Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl, Peterson was director of player personnel.

The Chiefs, despite going 13-3 during the regular season twice since Peterson became president in 1988, have not been to a title game since winning the Super Bowl after the 1969 season.

Cunningham, who was Kansas City's defensive coordinator for four years before taking over as coach, led the Chiefs to a 9-7 record in 1999 and 7-9 this season.

The Chiefs have missed the postseason three straight years and have not won a playoff game since after the 1993 season.

"While our record for the past three years is not all a reflection of Gunther Cunningham, the fact is that two of the last three years the Kansas City Chiefs have had a losing record," Peterson said. "We don't think that's appropriate for this organization."

During an interview Friday with ESPN Radio, Vermeil said that he never expected to coach again after leaving the Rams.

"If I'd known I was going to be back, I would have never left," he said.

Vermeil, 64, said negotiations between the Chiefs and Rams were "the due process of the league, the normal business side of these kinds of things."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that the Rams were demanding a first-round draft pick for the right to hire Vermeil. That report could not be immediately confirmed through the Rams' public relations office, which was closed Friday.

"My interpretation is, he can't go to Kansas City without our consent, which we haven't granted at this point," Rams president John Shaw said Thursday. "Right now, there is some dispute. If a coach still has years remaining (on his contract), he can't go to another club without our permission."

On Thursday, Kansas City was awarded third-round draft picks in 2001 and 2002 from the Washington Redskins, who lured former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer out of a two-year retirement to be their coach and director of football operations. Schottenheimer had one year left on a contract with the Chiefs.

Vermeil also said Friday that he was under contract to St. Louis as a consultant for the next three years, not one year as was previously reported.

"When I resigned, they, out of goodness, gave me a $500,000 (per year) consulting contract for four years," Vermeil said. "I just want to clarify that part."


©2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.