At the conclusion of his historic season as the architect of The Greatest Show on Turf, Dick Vermeil decided to retire after having led the St. Louis Rams to the 1999 Super Bowl championship. But what if he hadn’t retired and what if Mike Martz didn’t take over starting in 2000? Could the Rams have built a dynasty?
Vermeil was an older coach, who put in a hard hours to turn around a franchise that was regarded as one of the worst of the early ‘90s and who had moved from L.A. to St. Louis in the middle of the decade. Even as a younger coach, Vermeil had to step away from the game in 1983 after coaching the Philadelphia Eagles for seven years, citing “burnout” as the main factor.
There are actually some parallels between Vermeil and current Rams head coach Sean McVay’s struggles with retirement the last two seasons, who also cited similar reasons as to why he was going to potentially walk away. Vermeil was the young hot shot coach of the time, much like McVay now.
Given the grind of the NFL season and his history with burnout and his age, it made sense that he was walking away at this point in his career. He had been chasing a Super Bowl, losing one in 1980 with Philadelphia, and finally had reached the mountain top.
He’s not the first coach to leave the Eagles and to find success with another franchise. The other one also happens to be orchestrating the NFL’s current dynasty.
Andy Reid, 65, chose not to retire after both of his recent Super Bowl victories with the Kansas City Chiefs, and it made me wonder what would have happened if Vermeil had stayed with the Rams instead of handing the job off to then offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
He has admitted that retiring quickly from St. Louis was “one of the worst decisions I ever made” so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could have stayed.
We can first start with Martz, who after leading the NFL’s most powerful offense, probably would have been up for a head coaching job himself. With Vermeil not leaving, Martz would have had to go to another organization to attain the position.
Given that Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, Vince Tobin, was on the hot seat coming out of the 1999 where he finished with a 6-10 record (he was fired just 7 games into the 2000 season) it’s possible with Martz available, that they do not retain Tobin, and instead hire the Rams offensive coordinator as their new coach. This would reunite him with his former head coach, now his defensive coordinator. This can be backed up by the fact that Martz himself brought Marmie in as the Rams defensive coordinator in 2004.
As far as the Rams go, with Vermeil staying, Kurt Warner now has the structure and support of a head coach who believed in him. It’s no secret that Martz was not a big Warner fan and put a ton of pressure on him, admitting that he was most likely the thing that affected Warner’s poor play in the 2002-03 season the most. This ended with Warner being pushed out the door in 2004 and Marc Bulger taking over, inevitably ending the Greatest Show on Turf.
If Martz is not the coach of the Rams in 2000 to pick up Bulger, is it possible he ends up in Arizona who have their own quarterback issues through out the 2000s?
Vermeil would now not be available to take the head coaching position with Kansas City in 2001. The vacant position could have changed the AFC landscape. Who knows if this would have allowed Brady to still be taken by the New England Patriots. The Rams could have been potentially paired up against the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVI, not New England.
With Oakland ranking in the bottom half of team defense in 2001, allowing 316 yards per game, it’s feasible to think the Rams would have had less trouble in the Super Bowl since they would not have been playing against a Bill Belichick run defense. They end their 14-2 season with a Super Bowl victory, instead of a last second loss on the leg of Adam Vinatieri, and win their second ring in three years to cement themselves as the dynasty of the early 2000s.
Vermeil stayed head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs through the 2005 season, so I do believe he would have continued coaching after the 2001 season. 2002 was lost for the Rams, with Kurt Warner still breaking his finger and being out most of the year.
However, with Bulger not on the roster now, Warner remains the starting quarterback for 2003. Much like they did in real life, The Rams bounce back and post a 12-4 record.
Warner proved with his revival in Arizona that he had the potential to be a Pro Bowl quarterback well into the late 2000s, even bringing the Cardinals to their first franchise Super Bowl berth in the 2008 season.
I believe keeping the stability of Warner, Faulk, Holt and Bruce intact would have helped St. Louis defeat the Carolina Panthers on a last second field goal in the divisional round, instead of the double overtime loss they actually suffered.
With no Brady in New England, and Carolina out of the playoffs, the 2003-04 Super Bowl looks much different potentially pinning the Rams against a Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts team. While the Rams make it to the big game, I think 2003 league MVP Manning leads the high powered Colts offense to a Super Bowl victory.
This would have also changed Manning’s narrative at the time as a quarterback who was great in the regular season but couldn’t win the big one (he did eventually win a Super Bowl in 2006 against the Chicago Bears and another with the Broncos in 2015).
I could see Vermeil walking away after the 2003 season Super Bowl loss, as in real life he would only coach until 2005 with Kansas City. In this scenario, he would go down a two-time Super Bowl champion with four Super Bowl appearances total.
While we will never know exactly how different the future of the Los Angeles Rams and the NFL could have been if Vermeil stayed with the Rams, it is fun to think about and connect the dots of what could have been.
Would Warner be the greatest quarterback in team history? Would the Rams have moved back to LA if they had more success? Would the Greatest Show on Turf have been considered a dynasty? We will never know for sure but what we do know is in the end Vermeil was still a Hall of Fame coach, well regarded by the Rams fan base for bringing the franchise their first Super Bowl and orchestrating one of the greatest offenses in NFL history.