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Thursday, January 1, 2004
Coach will return for fourth season news services

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The NFL's oldest coach figures staying around young people is the best way to stay spry.

"It's true," said 67-year-old Dick Vermeil. "My football team energizes me."

So Vermeil will be back next year with the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs, a decision he made after thinking how much he regretted leaving St. Louis shortly after the Rams won the 2000 Super Bowl.

Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, one of Vermeil's closest friends, talked him out of retirement in 2001 and gave him a three-year, $10 million contract. Calling Vermeil "the best coach in the National Football League," Peterson has said repeatedly that as long as he is general manager of the Chiefs, Vermeil is welcome to be head coach.

"I don't even know if it will be a one-year contract or not," Vermeil said. "I just told Carl that I wanted to stay."

After going 6-10 in 2001 and 8-8 last year, Vermeil guided the 2003 Chiefs to a 13-3 regular-season record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. He took Philadelphia to the Super Bowl following the 1980 season and guided the Rams to the NFL championship in the 1999 season; he could be the first coach to take three different teams to the Super Bowl.

"I was thinking of how I would feel about four months down the road," he said. "I decided I would be more apt to regret having left than to regret having stayed."

Applause broke out when he informed his assistant coaches, who are preparing to host a second-round playoff game on Jan. 11. He also was encouraged to stay by wife Carol and his players.

"There were a lot of smiling faces in that room," said Lynn Stiles, vice president of football operations and another close friend.

Also Thursday, Vermeil said his offensive coordinator, Al Saunders, declined an offer to coach Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are looking to replace Frank Solich, who was fired Nov. 29 with a 9-3 record.

The Chicago Bears reportedly will interview Saunders on Friday for their opening, and by week's end the Oakland Raiders also are expected to seek permission to interview him. Saunders has coached in the NFL since joining the Chargers in 1983; he was San Diego's head coach from 1986-88. He has been with the Chiefs the past three seasons.

"He told me he wants to keep this thing going. So far, this year has been outstanding. And we're all excited about this season. But there's no reason why we can't build next year on what he's accomplished thus far.

"And this thing about him being 67 years old _ he's 67 years young. He needs to be around these young guys as much as they need to be around him."

Defensive end Eric Hicks said the team was glad to have him back and dismissed questions about Vermeil's age.

"I'm sure it gets tougher and tougher as the years go by," he said. "But he's a unique 67-year-old. You don't see many 67-year-olds who are in as good a condition as him. I think he can do it for about three or five more years."

Vermeil also said his offensive coordinator, Al Saunders, declined an offer to coach Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are looking to replace Frank Solich, who was fired Nov. 29 with a 9-3 record.

Saunders, whose Kansas City offense has been atop the NFL for two straight years, might still be a candidate for an NFL head coaching job.

"I spoke with Al the night before, when he told me he was not going to take the job," Vermeil said. "The next morning I talked to Al and I said, 'Al, I'm pleased with your decision to stay, because I've made the same decision.'

"In my mind, I was pretty much on the positive side for the last few days. I just didn't tell anybody. I didn't even tell Carol."

Information from The Associated Press and senior writer Len Pasquarelli was used in this report.