KANSAS CITY — The only 10-win team not in the playoffs seethed with frustration Monday. Players stuffed their belongings into black plastic bags and reluctantly said their goodbyes, filled with thoughts of what might have been.
Even worse for the Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) was the uncertainty.
Who will be their next coach? Is Will Shields coming back? Or Willie Roaf? Are any of the assistant coaches?
And what will Priest Holmes do now that Larry Johnson has emerged as a marquee star in the NFL?
“You don’t know if you should take everything out of your locker or do it the way you’ve been doing it, leave certain things in your locker expecting to come back,” cornerback Eric Warfield said. “Nobody knows who’s going to be here, player-wise or coaching-wise.”
One man cleaning out everything was Dick Vermeil, who ended his long coaching career on Sunday with a bittersweet 37-3 rout of the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.
Vermeil’s five-year log in Kansas City reads 44-36. It will be remembered as a time when the offense smashed more than 40 franchise records but the team did not win a single playoff game. The Chiefs pumped the Pro Bowl full of starters at running back, fullback, tight end, guard and tackle.
But their inability to create even an average NFL defense doomed them until Vermeil’s last six games. Except for the second half at Dallas and the entire game at the New York Giants in the last month and a half, the defense played well. In the past two games, San Diego and Cincinnati combined to score only 10 points.
But road losses to the Cowboys and Giants wound up making the difference. It was also hard for everybody to purge from their thoughts a home loss to Philadelphia when they gave up an 18-point lead, or a miserable 14-3 setback at Buffalo when Pro Bowl left tackle Roaf was out and quarterback Trent Green got sacked six times.
“I personally predicted we’d win 12 games this season, and we didn’t,” Vermeil said. “Maybe we screwed up.
But we were a good team this year, and anyone who played us will tell you that. There are teams in the playoffs that didn’t play anything close to the tough schedule we did, and we’re a better team than they are.”
Carl Peterson, the Chiefs’ president and general manager, is expected to move quickly to sign his fourth head coach since taking over in 1989. Known for have a penchant for long-range planning, Peterson might have chosen his man.
Some people think it’s New York Jets coach Herman Edwards. Peterson and Edwards are old friends. Peterson and his wife took Edwards out to dinner the night before the Jets and Chiefs played their season opener this year.
But Kansas City would have to give up some high draft picks to the Jets as compensation.
“I’ve been thinking about this, obviously, for some time, ever since Dick said last year that this might be his final year,” Peterson said. “I’ve got some thoughts. It doesn’t have to be an offensive guy, it doesn’t have to be a defensive guy.”
Put it to a vote of the players, and offensive coordinator Al Saunders would be the overwhelming choice. The architect of the most successful offense in team history is also expected to be interviewed for other head coaching vacancies.
“I’ve said all along that I have a great relationship with Al and I enjoy playing in this offense,” Green said. “I think Al would make a great head coach, but that’s not my job. Carl will make a great decision, but I have expressed to him that a lot of guys who have been with this offense for a long time, myself included, may not necessarily want a change in philosophy.”
Whoever settles into Vermeil’s plush fourth-floor office could inherit a team with plenty of potential.
If Pro Bowlers Shields and Roaf come back and anchor the offensive line, the offense should be in great shape. Johnson, who started only the last nine games still erased Holmes’ team rushing record.
The defense has several ascending young players.
One big decision will be up to Holmes, who went on injured reserve midway through the season with head and neck trauma. Will he be willing to play behind Johnson?
In addition, many contracts will have to be restructured for the Chiefs to squeeze under the salary cap. They are now about $20 million over.