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Winning never gets old

You know what Joe Gibbs needed? Maybe one look at Dick Vermeil, is all.

Gibbs needed one look at Vermeil to understand that "veteran" is in, in the NFL today. Senior status is not merely respectable, it's brushing right up against the verge of desirable. You get the fat contract AND the 5 percent discount on dinner.

Bill Parcells, age 62 and holding, turned around the Cowboys in, really, half a season. Parcells was the retired guy who turned down a chance to take over Tampa Bay two years ago before young turk Jon Gruden got the job. He was out of coaching to stay, until Jerry Jones persuaded him to see what he could do with the kids in Dallas.

And seeing Parcells do his thing might have inspired Gibbs, might have reminded him that his age, 63, is hereby deemed virtually irrelevant in the face of the Washington Redskins' overhwelming desire to stop stinking.

Perfectly valid inspiration, if true. But, listen, seeing the 67-year-old Vermeil do it yet again is the clincher.

Joe Gibbs can do it because Dick Vermeil did it, and not just once. Vermeil famously left the Eagles after taking Philadelphia to a Super Bowl, a classic case of coaching burnout -- or so it seemed. His return to the St. Louis Rams a few years ago was stunning; his guiding the Rams to an NFL championship was perhaps the most heartwarming story in recent football coaching history.

And then Vermeil was done, and then he wasn't. What he has done for the Chiefs since arriving in Kansas City is the most solid reminder in the world that good coaches don't forget how it's done, that age as a number packs far less a wallop than victory totals.

It's amazing that Vermeil's Chiefs are almost under the radar heading into this second weekend of the NFL playoffs. Kansas City's less than stellar finish to the season -- 2-2 over its final four games, 90 points yielded in the two defeats -- surely has something to do with that, but you're still talking about a 13-3 team and the No. 2 seed in the AFC, with a home date against Indianapolis.

The Chiefs win that game, and they'll stand one victory away from delivering Vermeil his third Super Bowl appearance as head coach, with three different teams. That would be an NFL first. More significantly, it would be as clear a message as can be sent about the value of experience and the overarching importance of being a fine football mind above all else. They can't prove that by birth certificate.

Gibbs is Vermeil in a different package. Both men are classic "system" guys. Both men win with excellent schemes, good people skills and an almost unerring eye toward finding players who fit best with their needs, as opposed to the dreaded "best athlete available" cop-out you'll hear thrown down by GMs from time to time.

But for whatever Gibbs might prove in a return to the Redskins, it's worth noting here that Vermeil already has proved it. The Chiefs have gone from 6-10 to 13-3 in his three seasons on the sideline, not unlike the transformation that occurred on Vermeil's watch in St. Louis. Credit Kansas City GM Carl Peterson, a longtime friend of Vermeil's, with knowing exactly what the old man could bring to the table and with being willing to let Vermeil stay around for as long as he wishes (which, Vermeil now says, will include at least one more season).

And Vermeil's the same guy he always was. He remains as touchy-feely as Parcells is gruff. Both Vermeil and Parcells, in fact, should stand as comforting reminders to Gibbs that being away from the game for a while does not necessarily dictate a pure revolution of style.

Have the rules changed? Only in about a hundred ways. The NFL that Gibbs left behind was one in which a front office could build a team and assume the coach would be able to lean against its solid foundation for years on end, which Gibbs did in reaching four Super Bowls with the 'Skins of old. The NFL of today is transient above all other things. It's clearly a different challenge.

But the basics don't change. Coaching is coaching. Guys who are good at it remain so, generally because they're bright enough and intuitive enough to make the minor adjustments along the way that alleviate the need for any sort of drastic overhaul. Parcells qualifies. Vermeil certainly does. It'd be a pure shock if Joe Gibbs didn't prove the same, especially if -- as we assume -- his stature alone is enough to push Daniel Snyder out of the way to let Gibbs do the job he's being hired to do.

And if there's any doubt in Gibbs' mind (hard to believe, but possible), he need only reach for the remote control this weekend. Flip on the Colts-Chiefs game from Kansas City, and see the 67-year-old man prowling the sideline there with the 13-3 team for which Vermeil is rightfully and thoroughly credited with creating.

"This thing about him being 67 years old -- he's 67 years young," assistant coach Al Saunders said. "He needs to be around these young guys as much as they need to be around him."

Why Vermeil needs the Chiefs is probably a question for another day, something about the symbiosis of competitors who never really do get it out of their systems. Why the Chiefs need Dick Vermeil is so much more obvious: The man knows how to win. Joe Gibbs doesn't need to look far. He'll fit in to today's NFL just fine.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com