Analysis

Looking Back on Legendary Coach Dick Vermeil’s Career

Dick Vermeil Hall of Fame

The vote was 4-0 against.

Dick Vermeil’s wife Carol voted no. So did the couple’s three teenage children. None of them were in favor of leaving sunny Southern California for shot-and-a-beer, hey-yo-how-ya-doin’ Philadelphia.

Hell, even Vermeil had little interest when Eagles general manager Jim Murray called him that early-January day in 1976 to talk about the team’s vacant head-coaching job.

Vermeil was a 39-year-old wunderkind who was sitting on top of the college football world. His UCLA team had just upset No. 1 ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins already were being mentioned in the national championship discussion for next season. The nation’s top prep recruit–El Cajon Valley High quarterback Mark Malone–who would eventually be an NFL first-round draft pick and play nine years in the league, was sitting across the desk from Vermeil when Murray called.  

The Eagles, meanwhile, had little going for them other than their NFL address. They were the F Troop of professional football (look it up, boys and girls). They had just suffered through their ninth-straight non-winning season. They had won a total of 18 games the previous four years and hadn’t made the playoffs since winning the NFL title back in 1960.

They were a bad-awful team with few ways to get better. The previous head coach, Mike McCormack, had traded away all of the team’s top draft picks for over-the-hill veterans in a failed future-is-now plan.

The Eagles, who had finished 4-10 in ’75, had no picks in the first three rounds of the ’76 draft, none in the first four rounds in ’77 and no first or second-round pick in ’78. And free agency still was 15 years away.

Vermeil told Murray thanks but no thanks. But Murray and his boss, chain-smoking Eagles owner Leonard Tose, flew to LA anyway and persuaded Vermeil to meet with them at the Bel-Air Hotel, and at least listen to their sales pitch.

“Dick met with his staff before he went to see them and said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to take the job,’’’ said Vermeil’s longtime friend Carl Peterson, who was his wide receivers coach at UCLA. “I said, ‘Dick, do me a favor. Call me after the meeting.’ He said, ‘OK, I’ll call you. But I’ll tell you what I’m telling you now. I’m not taking the job.’

“So he calls me after the meeting. I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I took the job.’’’

Headed for the Hall

On Saturday afternoon, in Canton, Ohio, 46 years after his fateful decision to pack up his family and move to Philadelphia, Vermeil will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He will cram a lot of thank yous into his six-minute acceptance speech, including two important ones for the people who convinced him to take the Eagles job–George Allen and Chuck Knox. Allen passed away in 1990. Knox died in 2018.

Vermeil was on Allen’s Los Angeles Rams’ staff in 1969, serving as his special teams coach. And he was Knox’s quarterback’s coach with the Rams in 1973 before taking the UCLA job. He called both of them for advice after the Eagles contacted him.

“I didn’t want to leave UCLA,’’ Vermeil said. “I felt we could win a national championship there. But both Chuck and George said, ‘You gotta take it.’’’

Vermeil ended up coaching 15 years in the NFL. But those 15 seasons spanned 29 years. He coached the Eagles for seven years and led them to four straight playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance, but burned out and retired abruptly after the 1982 season. More on that later.

He moved on to broadcasting, where he spent 14 years in the booth with CBS and ABC as an analyst for NFL and college football games.

Then, he came out of retirement in 1997 to coach the St. Louis Rams and won the Super Bowl with them in his third season. Retired again right after that, then unretired once again a year later to coach the Kansas City Chiefs for five seasons.

If you just look at the raw numbers–he’s 35th in career wins (120) and 81st in win percentage (.524)–you might wonder why Vermeil should be in the Hall of Fame ahead of other coaches with more wins, including Marty Schottenheimer (200), Dan Reeves (190), Knox (184), Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan (170) and Mike Holmgren (161). Coughlin and Shanahan both have two Super Bowl wins to Vermeil’s one. So does George Seifert.

A Miracle Worker

But raw numbers don’t always tell the complete story, particularly with coaches. It can’t be overstated how bad the Eagles were when Vermeil got there in ’76, and how few resources he had at his disposal to make them better. You couldn’t go out and sign a half-dozen premium free agents to help turn around your fortunes back then.

But you could make the players you inherited better and you could upgrade your roster with trades and shrewd late-round drafting, all of which Vermeil and his staff did. In his third season in Philadelphia, the Eagles made the first of four straight playoff appearances. In his fifth season, they made it to the Super Bowl.

Vermeil’s Eagles lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, 27-10. That loss still sticks in his craw. If his team had won, his Hall of Fame enshrinement almost certainly would’ve happened much sooner.

“The owner came to me the Sunday night after we beat Dallas in the NFC Championship Game,’’ Vermeil said. “He said he wanted to have a party for the team. I wasn’t too hot for the idea, but I told Leonard you’re the owner not me.”

“So he puts on a big party the Wednesday night of the bye week before the Super Bowl. It seemed like we were celebrating like we’d already won the next game. I don’t think it’s the reason we lost to the Raiders. But if I had to do it over again, I would’ve told Leonard no. No party. We still have one more challenge in front of us. Then we can celebrate.”

“You’ve got to remember this. It takes the same thing to go to a Super Bowl and lose and as it does to go to one and win. I have great respect and admiration for that Eagles team that went there and lost because I lost too. We were minus-three in turnovers. I called the same play twice, and it was intercepted twice. That’s me. The dumb-headed football coach.”

“We also were a little banged up on offense. Charlie Smith, our starting flanker back with all the speed against man-to-man bump-and-run coverage, couldn’t play because he had a broken jaw. My No. 3 receiver, Scott Fitzkee, couldn’t play because of a stress fracture in his leg. So, we lacked some of the things we had to get there. I took (running back) Wilbert (Montgomery) and moved him outside a lot because he was a good outside receiver. But when we did that, it diminished the value of our running game.’’

The situation Vermeil walked into in St. Louis in 1997 wasn’t much better than the one in Philadelphia. The Rams hadn’t had a winning season in eight years. Vermeil’s predecessor, Rich Brooks, was canned after just two seasons. There also was the fact that Vermeil hadn’t coached in a decade-and-a-half. Players had changed. The game had changed. Could the coach change?

“When I went back into coaching, I knew I couldn’t be who I was (with the Eagles),” Vermeil said. “I couldn’t be my own offensive coordinator. Couldn’t call my own plays. Couldn’t make all of those decisions. Because I had been away for 14 years and it was a totally different game.”

“I did a much better job of delegating and designating. The first year back was a major change. I had been at a lower tempo both physically and emotionally for 14 years. Hourwise, all of a sudden you’re back to working 18 hours a day again.’’

The adjustment wasn’t easy. While he delegated more, he still tried to work his players as hard as he had his Eagles teams. But what might’ve flown in the late ‘70s didn’t fly in the late ‘90s.

Rough Start

After his first two teams went 5-11 and 4-12, Rams president John Shaw came close to pulling the plug on Vermeil.

“There were people high up in the organization that were ready to get rid of Dick because he was so hard on everybody,” said Peterson, who spent nearly two decades as the president and general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs and will be Vermeil’s Hall of Fame presenter on Saturday. “I would tell them, ‘Give him the third year. Give him the third year. That’s going to be the key.’”

“I would talk to Dick every Friday. I’d be reading stories in the paper about the Rams players rebelling and people saying the guy’s too old, and the game has passed him by. But he would say to me, ‘I know you’re going to think I’m crazy. But we’re going to have a helluva team next year.’ And he was right.’’

Vermeil finally eased up on his players in his third year with St. Louis. He also made some significant changes to his coaching staff, including replacing offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome with Mike Martz. The Rams’ Greatest Show On Turf offense led the league in scoring, and they beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

“I had five future Hall of Famers on that team (offensive tackle Orlando Pace, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and wide receiver Torry Holt, a three-time finalist),’’ Vermeil said. “It didn’t matter if I made or anybody else made many mistakes. Because those five guys were going to win most big games for us.

“And Mike Martz did a beautiful job with the offense, and our defense was the sixth best in the league that year. It was a complete, talented football team.’’

Change of Plans

If Vermeil had stuck with his original career plan, he might have a bronze bust in the Auto Repair Hall of Fame right now rather than the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Coaching wasn’t on Vermeil’s radar when he was growing up in the early ‘50s in the small northern California town of Calistoga. His father Louie was an auto mechanic and Vermeil figured that’s what he would do as well.

“To that point, I was thinking my dad might tear down his old barn and we could turn it into Vermeil & Sons Garage because my younger brother already was a pretty good mechanic.’’

Then along came Bill Wood, who also figures to get a big thank you from Vermeil during his Saturday enshrinement speech. Wood took over the Calistoga High football program in 1953 before Vermeil’s senior year. Vermeil was the team’s quarterback.

“I was just fascinated by him, just admired the hell out of him,’’ Vermeil said. “We were 1-7 the year before he took over. My senior year, we went 7-1. He said to me, ‘Vermeil, you could play college football if you wanted to.’”

“That started changing my thinking. And I started talking to him about the plays we were running and why we were doing different things.’’

Vermeil attended a nearby junior college for two years before transferring to San Jose State where he walked on and eventually earned a scholarship. His coach there, Bob Bronzan, eventually helped him get his first high school head coaching job in 1960 at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo.

Aquacoach

The job came with a catch. Vermeil also had to serve as Hillsdale’s swim coach.

“I really learned a lot about coaching individuals from that experience,” he said of his swim-coach experience. “It helped me working with football players.”

“I learned about conditioning principles. The kid that broke the world’s record in the 200 IM back then, Ted Stickles, was a senior at Hillsdale the year before I got there. He was the first guy in history to swim the 200 IM in under two minutes.

“He went to Indiana, where he swam for the great Doc Counsilman. He sent me all of their workouts. So, all of a sudden, I have Counsilman’s workouts and I’m using them with my high school kids. We didn’t lose a varsity meet in our conference in the three years I coached them.’’

From Hillsdale, Vermeil spent a year as the backfield coach at the College of San Mateo, another year as the head coach at Napa Junior College and then four years as an assistant on John Ralston’s staff at Stanford.

At Stanford, he became good friends with the school’s track coach, Payton Jordan, who coached the U.S. track and field team at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Jordan happened to be friends with George Allen, who was the Rams’ head coach at the time. Allen called Jordan and asked him if he knew of any college coaches who might be interested in coaching the Rams’ special teams. Jordan recommended Vermeil.

Vermeil spent a year on Allen’s staff, then left in 1970 to become the offensive coordinator for Tommy Prothro at UCLA.

“I always wanted to work for Tommy to find out how he won as many games as he did with as little talent as he had,’’ Vermeil said. “Then he showed up at my doorstep and offered me the offensive coordinator’s job at UCLA. I didn’t want to leave George, but I wanted to find out how Tommy did it. I felt it would be like going to school again.’’

Value of Hard Work

Just a year after Vermeil joined Prothro’s UCLA staff, Allen left the Rams to take the Washington Redskins job, and Prothro was hired to replace him. Vermeil went with him back to the Rams as his offensive coordinator.

“I wasn’t prepared to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL at that point,’’ Vermeil said. To all of a sudden take over an NFL passing game, we had broken some records at UCLA throwing the ball with Dennis Dummit. But that’s not the NFL. I always say I helped get Tommy fired.’’

Prothro did get canned by the Rams after just two seasons and was replaced by Knox. He kept Vermeil on as his quarterbacks and special teams coach. The Rams went 12-2 and made the playoffs in Knox’s first year. After the season, UCLA offered Vermeil their head-coaching job.

Vermeil was a smart coach. But, he never considered himself a Bill Walsh-like genius. Even as a high school and college coach, he felt he had to outwork people to beat them. Early mornings. Late nights. Sleeping in the office. Long, grueling practices.

“Even at UCLA, he was always the first guy in the building and the last one to leave,” Peterson said. “Terry Donahue and I were on Pepper Rodgers’ staff before Dick arrived. We had commuted from Westlake Village to Westwood, which was 33 miles one way. With Pepper, we’d start meetings at 9 or 9:30 in the morning during the season and go home at 6 or 6:30.

“With Dick, we’d start at 6:30 in the morning and finish at 1 AM. Terry and I quickly decided that commuting from Westlake Village was crazy. So, we made a deal with the Holiday Inn in Westwood to stay there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. So, Dick’s always been that way. If you were going to work for him, you had to hang on.’’

Vermeil became even more intense when he took the Eagles job. The first thing he did was make sure all of his assistants had pull-out couches in their offices.

 “I knew I wasn’t going to outsmart anybody when I took the Eagles job,’’ Vermeil said. “We were in the same division with the Cowboys and Redskins. Tom Landry was coaching the Cowboys. George Allen was in Washington. We weren’t nearly as talented as those teams. But I felt we might be able to outwork them and out-motivate them and out-drive them and out-push them.

“I used a different concept in training camp than what I was exposed to working for George and Tommy Prothro and Chuck Knox. I almost doubled up the workload.’’

The Vermeil Way

Vermeil’s training camps were brutal. Three-hour practices twice a day. In pads. It didn’t get much easier once the season started either.

“Back then, you could sign an unlimited number of guys in training camp,’’ Peterson said. “I remember we had 124 guys. A lot of them would be cannon fodder and fall after five or six or seven straight live-contact practices.

“Dick felt he had to change the culture in Philadelphia. His edict was we were going to be tougher, smarter and outwork the opponent. We got tough.”

“Guys like Bill Bergey and Stan Walters and Harold Carmichael would come into my office and say, ‘Carl, you’ve got to get the coach to back off. He doesn’t seem to understand that an NFL season is a long season. He’s going to kill us. We’ll all be dead by the second half of the season.’ I told them, ‘Gentlemen, all I can tell you is I saw it work at UCLA. I realize that was college and not the pros. But hang in there.’’’

“We didn’t understand in the beginning what he was trying to do,’’ said Carmichael, a former Eagles wide receiver who went into the Hall of Fame two years ago and is one of Vermeil’s closest friends. “We couldn’t take our helmets off. It would be 90 degrees out and you couldn’t even unbuckle your chin strap until he said you could. We couldn’t get a drink of water until he said we could. He was trying to instill discipline in us and let us know he was the boss. A lot of us weren’t used to that kind of stuff.’’

Walters definitely wasn’t. The two-time Pro Bowl left tackle had spent the first three years of his career in Cincinnati playing for Paul Brown, whose approach was considerably different than Vermeil’s.

“Paul treated his players like thoroughbreds,’’ Walters said. “When I was with Paul, we practiced an hour-and-a-half in the morning and an hour-and-a-half in the afternoon,’’ Walters said. ‘’That afternoon practice was going to be over at 2:30 regardless. Even if there still were plays on Paul’s list that we hadn’t run, he’d say, ‘OK, it’s 2:30. Everybody in.

When Walters played for Brown, he used to go fishing at a nearby farm pond between training camp practices. Between Vermeil’s practices, Walters just wanted to find a bed or training table to collapse on and rest his aching, tired body.

Blood and Bruises

“Dick would ask me how I was doing and I’d say, ‘How do you think I’m doing? My hands are cut. My elbows are bleeding. I’ve got a lump on my forehead. I’ve spent eight hours lifting weights and hitting people in the hot sun,’’’ Walters said.

“I never felt we had to practice as long and as hard as he worked us. But at some point after the first year with him, I understood what he was trying to do and said, ‘This is the guy who is going to get us to the championship.’’’

“Stan didn’t like me for a long time,” Vermeil said. “I made a point of not walking off the practice field close enough to him to hear him bitching. But you know something? He became a Pro Bowl pass-protector. And today, he’ll tell you this because he tells me this: it was the best experience of his life.’’

Walters was one of just 12 players under contract with the Eagles when Vermeil arrived in ’76 who was still on the team in ’80 when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. They fondly refer to themselves as the Dirty Dozen.

“I didn’t love football like some other guys did,” said Walters, who spent 14 years as the Eagles’ radio analyst after he retired as a player following the 1983 season. “I had viewed it as a means to something better.”

“Dick was a beacon of light that sometimes shined a little too bright for me. It was tough playing for him. Very, very tough. The mental pressure was maybe something that I didn’t handle as well as I could have. You were under scrutiny every play. But at some point, while I was playing for him, I realized it actually was more than a job. It was my life. It was really something to be part of that team and playing for him in Philadelphia.’’

Loved by his Players

When Vermeil abruptly retired after the ’82 season, Walters was angry with him. He felt his coach had abandoned the team, had abandoned him. But that anger dissipated long ago.

“I’ve always said that if he called me right now and said, ‘Stanley, I’m in Harrisburg and have a flat tire. Can you help me?’ that I would tell my wife I had to go, get in the car and drive to Harrisburg,’’ said Walters.

“And then when I got to Harrisburg and we fixed the flat, I’d probably get mad at him when he started asking me whether I was treating my wife right or whatever.’’

Most of Vermeil’s former players feel the same way about the guy as Walters does. He’s invited nearly 400 of them to Canton for his enshrinement. Most of them will be there.

Until a couple of years ago, he held an annual charity golf tournament in the Philadelphia area where he lives. Players would come from all over the country for it because Vermeil always was there for them when they needed him. Five years ago, 15 of his former Eagles players threw a surprise party for him on his 80th birthday.

“He was demanding as a coach,” said his former Eagles quarterback, Ron Jaworski, who will be front and center in Canton for Vermeil’s enshrinement. “But he was like a father figure to me because my dad passed away when I was 19 when I was a sophomore in college. I needed that discipline and structure and he gave it to me. I think you can say that about most of the guys. They needed it at that age.”

“As you get older and he reaches out to you, you realize, damn, the guy still cares about me,” Jaworski said. “He kicked my ass on the field six days a week when I played. But he did it for a reason. He wanted us to be, not only better football players, but better human beings and good fathers and husbands. Those things mattered to him.’’

 Vermeil held his charity golf tournament for 27 years but had to cancel it in 2020 because of COVID-19.

“Then I started hearing that some of the guys were relieved because they’re all getting old and are banged up and having trouble walking,’’ he said. “But they had been coming anyway and not saying anything. I was making them feel obligated to show.”

“Guys like Jerry Sisemore and Bill Bradley were coming from Texas. I had only coached Bill one year and he still would come every year. I decided enough was enough and gave it up.’’

Beginning of the end

By 1981, the 20-hour days were beginning to catch up with Vermeil. After the Super Bowl loss to the Raiders the previous January, the Eagles charged out of the gate and won their first six games and nine of their first 11. But Vermeil wasn’t satisfied.

“If we didn’t play perfect, it was getting to him,’’ Walters said. “I remember a game in mid-October that year against the Saints. We beat them by 17 points. But Dick wasn’t happy. He got emotional in the Monday meeting. But it wasn’t the happy emotion he used to show after a win. It was a sad emotion.’’

After that 9-2 start, the Eagles lost four of their last five regular-season games, scoring a total of 43 points in the four losses. Then they were upset by the Giants in the first round of the playoffs.

A couple of weeks later, Vermeil’s wife Carol was in a serious car accident. Fractured her right elbow and pelvic bone. Needed 50 stitches to close wounds in her head from the shattered glass. She very nearly lost her eye.

“By the end of ’81, I was having trouble getting over a loss,’’ Vermeil said. “My own negative is I’m a blamer of myself. I would spend too much time after getting beat thinking what I should’ve done last week. It was interfering with what I should be doing to win that week.’’

At training camp the next summer, Vermeil still hadn’t gotten over the late-season collapse from the year before.

Burnout Symptoms

“Dick was doing bed checks one night,’’ said Walters. “My roommate was (right tackle) Jerry Sisemore. Dick comes into our room and sits down on the edge of a trash can. He started talking about what he had to do to get the team better. He got very emotional. This went on for about 20 minutes. When he left, Sise’ and I looked at each other and we’re like, who, what was that?”

“When I looked back on that moment after he quit, I realized the burnout had already started in training camp.’’

The Eagles split their first two games in ’82. Then came the 57-day player’s strike. With no games to prepare for, Vermeil spent much of the strike at a small cabin he and Carol owned in central Pennsylvania, about 25 miles from Penn State.

“I remember driving up there and thinking, God, it feels so good not to have a stiff neck and strain on my back,’’ Vermeil said. “I never had a great ability to turn anything off. Now I had no choice. And I enjoyed the feeling.’’

The strike eventually ended and the league played a reduced nine-game schedule with a 16-game playoff “tournament.” But, the Eagles lost their first four games after the strike and didn’t even qualify for the expanded postseason.

“When the strike ended, and I went back to coaching, I just didn’t feel good about myself,’’ Vermeil said. “I said, ‘I owe these guys more than I’m giving them.’’’

Tose’s Outburst

After the Eagles lost to the Bengals in their first game back following the strike, owner Leonard Tose interrupted Vermeil’s post-game address to the team and angrily told the players, “Why don’t you all do this city a favor and go back out on effing strike.’’

Linebacker John Bunting, who was the team’s player representative, stormed out of the room. Vermeil followed him.

“The top of my head just blew off after Leonard said that,’’ Bunting recalled. “I got up and walked by everybody and went into the shower room. Dick followed me. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be OK. Don’t do anything crazy tonight.’’’

But they weren’t going to be OK. Vermeil continued to spiral. One day, he pulled into his parking space at Veterans Stadium and couldn’t will his body to get out of the car. Another time, he couldn’t get up from his desk chair to go to practice.

“Today they have psychological terms for it,’’ Vermeil said.  “But back then, I didn’t know what was going on. The night before I decided to quit, I said to Carol, ‘I know what I have to do. But I don’t know what to say.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you just say you’re burned out?’’’

A week after the ’82 season ended, Vermeil did exactly that. Held a press conference and announced he was quitting because of burnout.

“A lot of us could see it coming,’’ Jaworski said. “Some of the team meetings late in the season at the hotel, he would address the team. It wasn’t the same guy. He was very emotional, but it wasn’t the emotion of a coach. It was the emotion of a guy that was really struggling. A lot of tears. And I don’t mean tears of joy. He was emotionally drained. He was just burned out. We saw it.’’

Getting Diagnosed

Not long after Vermeil stepped down as the Eagles’ coach, a New York psychologist named Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, who had co-authored a book a couple of years earlier called Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, contacted Vermeil and invited him to come up to his office for a chat.

“I got on the train and went up there and spent an afternoon with him,’’ Vermeil said. “It startled me how well he knew me and what was going on with me even though I had never met him.”

“When I got back home, I asked Carol how much time she had spent talking to him. She said she never talked to him. He nailed me. He knew me. That’s why he wrote the book on burnout.’’

Shortly after he left the Eagles, CBS hired Vermeil as an analyst on NFL games. He spent five years with them, then joined ABC where he primarily did college games.

As part of his job, he would go into cities early and talk to coaches and players in advance of the game. He said he spoke with a lot of “major’’ coaches who confessed to dealing with many of the same burnout symptoms he had experienced.

“I would sit in their offices with them and they’d be in tears,’’ he said. “They’d tell me, ‘I’ve been there. I know the feeling. I know exactly what you went through.’

“I’ve had coach’s wives contact me about scary things they’ve seen in their husbands and wonder what they should do. I’m not talking about a lot, but it’s happened. Head coaches in the NFL.’’

Job Offers

During the decade-and-a-half he was away from coaching, several teams contacted Vermeil about a return. In ’93, the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both offered him their head-coaching jobs.

Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse’s job offer came with a blank check. “I was sitting in my home with my dad who was dying of pancreatic cancer when he called,’’ Vermeil recalled. “He had a month or two to live. Hugh Culverhouse said he had more money than he could spend in several lifetimes but was tired of losing. He said I could write my own contract. Whatever I wanted.”

“I said I’d think about it. I went over to my dad’s old roll-top desk and sat next to him. I said, ‘Dad, you’re not going to believe what just happened to me,’ and I told him. He said, ‘Do you need the aggravation?’ I said no. He said then don’t take the job. So I didn’t.’’

A year later, the team Vermeil had left 12 years earlier, the Eagles, called him. Jeffrey Lurie had bought the franchise earlier that year from Norman Braman and wondered if Vermeil would be interested in returning.

Vermeil still lived in rural Chester County in Philadelphia’s western suburbs, but the meeting took place in New York City.

“We talked, and he offered me the job, but I initially turned it down,’’ Vermeil said. “Jeffrey and (club president) Joe (Banner) were wonderful people. But they were relatively inexperienced at that point. And I had been out of it for 12 years at that point, and I just didn’t feel confident I could do the kind of job they were going to need me to do with the lack of experience they had.”

“After our meeting, Jeffrey went out to San Francisco for the East-West game and ran into Bill Walsh. Bill and I were good friends. We used to go on vacation together. He had been trying to talk me into getting back into coaching for a while.”

“He talked to Jeffrey, and Jeffrey called me back and we started talking again. They eventually made a decision to go in a different direction. But the whole experience had gotten me so excited that it told me there was still some spark in me [to coach again].’’

Back to Coaching

Three years later, Vermeil finally acted on that spark when the Rams came courting.

“I went and met with them,’’ Vermeil said. “I didn’t have an agent. John Shaw said here’s what we’re offering. It was $1.5 million a year. It was a lot more money than I ever made with the Eagles or my two TV jobs. I made $75,000 when I coached the Eagles.

“John asked me if I wanted a bonus if we made it to the Super Bowl. I said, ‘No. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do, isn’t it?’’’

Even though he had stayed close to the game as a broadcaster, 14 years is a long time to be away from coaching. 

The rust showed early on. Vermeil thought he could treat players the same and work them as hard in the late ‘90s as he did in the late ‘70s. He thought wrong.

“I remember the first player rebellion that first year after we went full-gear the day after the final preseason game,’’ said Bunting, who was an assistant on his coaching staff in St. Louis.

“It was a sweltering hot day,” Bunting said. “High humidity. We go into the locker room after practice and there’s eight guys laid. out on tables with IVs in their arms. The next day: a player boycott. They’re on strike. He eased up some. But it wasn’t really until the third year when he hired (Mike) Martz (as offensive coordinator) that he really changed.’’

Vermeil’s first Rams team finished 5-11. His second team went 4-12. Shaw considered firing him after the ’98 season, but giving a second straight coach the hook after just two years was a bad look, even for the inept Rams.

“John lived in LA,’’ Vermeil said. “When he would be in town, I would tell him, ‘You can’t believe how much these guys are getting better.’ Before the third year, I said, ‘This is a playoff football team.’ He said, ‘Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me that. Every coach we’ve ever had has told me we’re going to the playoffs.’’’

Running out of Time

Vermeil knew the clock was ticking. The ’99 season essentially was do-or-die for him. And it got off to a nightmarish start when his starting quarterback, Trent Green, tore up his knee late in the preseason.

Kurt Warner, who the Rams had signed out of NFL Europe the previous year and who had played in just one NFL game, was thrust into the starting role.

Doubts? Vermeil certainly had a few. But he kept them to himself. At his press conference the day after Green got hurt, he said, “We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we will play good football.’’

John Becker, the Rams’ director of college scouting who had been on Vermei’s staff at UCLA and with the Eagles, had touted Warner to Vermeil the year before they signed him out of NFL Europe.

“John told me to keep an eye on him, so I started studying him,’’ Vermeil said. “I liked him. But I hadn’t seen him play in a game.

“I coached thirtysomething years, 19 of them in the NFL. And Kurt was one of the most complete packages as an individual that I’ve ever coached. What an unbelievable guy. In every category.’’

Showing Faith

“I was very secure in who I was,” Warner said. “But when Trent went down, let’s be honest. Nobody knew what I was capable of. I was the only one who knew that.

“In that moment, when there were a lot of questions about what the Rams should do – should they go out and get somebody else – I was smart enough to know some of the things that were going on behind closed doors.

“But when the head coach stands up in front of everybody and makes the declaration Dick made about me, that goes a long way in saying at least that I had the confidence of this coach in this moment to put the ball in my hands and see what I could do with it.

“I wasn’t naïve enough to think, ‘Oh, OK, Dick said that and I’m going to get 16 games and it doesn’t matter what I do, and he’s just going to run with me.’ But it was, ‘Hey, we’ve watched this guy for two years and we believe he deserves this opportunity. That goes a long way, because you’re already nervous. You already understand the big picture that, hey, if I don’t play well early, I may not get another chance at this thing.

“All you’re looking for is a sense that your teammates and your coaches believe in you, and not, well, we can’t really find anybody else, so I guess we’ll go with Kurt. Dick saying what he said went a long way. I do think it helped me settle in and play the way that I did.’’

Warner took the opportunity Vermeil gave him and ran with it. Boy, did he run with it. He threw an NFL-high 41 touchdown passes that year and was named the Most Valuable Player in the Rams’ 23-16 win over the Titans in the Super Bowl. He ended up playing 10 more seasons in the league, won two league MVP awards, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2008 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

Vermeil’s Impact

It was Warner who had the pleasure in February of surprising Vermeil at his home and informing him that he would be joining him in Canton.

“We were only together for a very short time,’’ Warner said. “But to this day, it still amazes me the impact he had on my life and my career as a man and as a player.

“The greatest compliment you can give any coach, and it speaks to Dick no matter who you talk to, is he leaves a deep impression upon you, whether you played for him in high school or college or the NFL.’’

When Vermeil came out of retirement to take the Rams job in 1997, it was against his wife’s wishes.

“Carol was taking French at the time because we were planning to spend some time with our family in France,’’ Vermeil said. “When I told her we were going back into coaching, she said, ‘’If I knew how to say f*** you in French, I would.’’

Vermeil had promised Carol he would retire if the Rams won the Super Bowl, and he kept that promise. But he knew immediately it was a rash decision.

“I knew how tough it was to go out a winner,’’ he said. “I taught myself to never use the word regret. But if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have [left the Rams].

“I’m a way too emotional guy and it was an emotional decision. My kids wanted me home. I had grandkids coming that lived right in the [Philadelphia] area. But when I was handing out the Super Bowl rings to the players that next spring, I was thinking to myself, ‘What the hell did I do?’

“I worked very hard for three years and helped make a contribution to a world championship. And now it was somebody else’s team. I was feeling sorry for myself.’’

Scratching One Last Itch

Peterson had tried to get his friend to join him in Kansas City a couple of times earlier when he was looking for a head coach. In the months after Vermeil left the Rams, he knew he still wanted to coach.

“We would talk after he left the Rams,’’ Peterson said. “He admitted that [the desire to coach] was still there. He admitted he resigned too soon.’’

After firing Gunther Cunningham following the 2000 season, Peterson offered the Chiefs job to Vermeil.

“I had to recruit Carol more than Dick, to be honest,’’ Peterson said. “I knew he still wanted to coach.’’

The Dick Vermeil that went to Kansas City was not the same one that had coached the Eagles or Rams. He had mellowed. He finally understood that you didn’t have to work 20-hour days to be successful. He finally learned how to cope with a loss.

“He had changed a lot as a coach by then,’’ Peterson said. “His ways, his practices. He was more like the players’ father than their coach. He and Carol would have the players over to their house and were teaching them how to barbeque and drink wine.’’

Carol enjoyed the Kansas City experience even more than Dick. She got involved in Operation Breakthrough, which was a mega-daycare center for 750 underprivileged kids from the inner city of Kansas City.

“The only time a lot of those kids might eat was when they were there,” Vermeil said. “Carol still is involved with the organization. Emotionally. Financially. She helped with adoptions. She’s done it all. It gave her her own identity.’’

Vermeil wasn’t as successful as he had hoped in Kansas City—made the playoffs just once in his five years there—but he enjoyed working with Peterson again, enjoyed getting to know and become close friends with Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.

“The biggest disappointment of my career was that I didn’t do a good enough job there to give Lamar an opportunity to hold up the (AFC Championship) trophy that bore his name,’’ Vermeil said.

Let the Tears Flow

Dick Vermeil is a crier. Seldom made it through a post-game victory speech during his career without his eyes turning into Niagara Falls. You can guarantee that there will be plenty of tears Saturday when he goes into the Hall of Fame.

“I’m sure I’m going to learn things about Dick through his speech that I didn’t know,’’ Warner said. “The journey that it took and the people that helped him along the way. That, to me, is my favorite part of the Hall of Fame enshrinement.

“Whenever I think about the Hall of Fame, I think about the impression you leave upon the game and the impression you leave on the people that were around you and the ability to make people better. That’s what Hall of Famers do. They change the people around them and the culture around them.

That’s exactly who Dick Vermeil is.’’