Tony DeMeo

Dick Vermeil by Gordon Forbes

In 1979 and 1980 I served as an assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania. I was 29 and had just come off four years as Iona College’s Head Football Coach. We won two conference championships and I was coach of the year twice. I thought I invented the game.

But at UPENN I worked with a great bunch of coaches led by Harry Gamble. Coach Gamble taught me how to be a football coach. I knew how to coach football but Coach Gamble showed me how to BE a football coach. Harry Gamble later became C.E.O. and General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles.

What does all this have to do with this wonderful book by Gordon Forbes? Well while I was learning the trade under Coach Gamble; Dick Vermeil was the Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles along with cheese steaks and soft pretzels are the pride of Philadelphia. In those days Vermeil would take the Eagles to Franklin Field (home of the Penn football team) for practice. So I studied every move that Coach Vermeil made. He was a whirling dervish of enthusiasm and positive energy. He was like Norman Vincent Peale on Red Bull. Wow – what a great learning atmosphere for a young football coach.

So when I saw this book by Gordon Forbes, I snatched it up and read it cover to cover. Forbes does a great job portraying Vermeil, and the book is a great read.

Vermeil took the Eagles job in 1976 after a successful stint as the Head Coach at UCLA. He won the Super Bowl with the Bruins and became a hot prospect. His mentor was John Ralston who also had an influence on Bill Walsh. Vermeil turned the UCLA team into Champs by out-working everyone. Long hours and sleepless nights put the Bruins into the Rose Bowl where they enjoyed a huge upset of Ohio State. This regimen was taken to the NFL.

The Eagles were in turmoil in 1976 and owner Leonard Tose chose Vermeil to right the ship. Vermeil’s first duty was to instill a strong work ethic in the program. However, The Eagles had no running back and thus couldn’t control the ball. Vermeil’s first season was 4-10. But he was setting the foundation of discipline and hard work.

Vermeil was searching for a QB and a running back to generate points. His second season ended up 5-9 and fans were getting impatient. Vermeil thought 1978 would be the breakthrough year. It wasn’t – the birds went 8-6. Vermeil’s positive attitude in the face of hostile Eagle fans was put to a test when his number one and two RBs were busted for selling drugs! But Dick persevered. In 1979 they went 11-5 and then in 1980, they made it to the Super Bowl. They were a reflection of their coach blue-collar scrappers with great work ethic and winning attitudes.

But the long hours took its toll on Vermeil and after the 1982 season he stepped down. His tenure as Head Coach of the eagles was 57 – 51. I was stunned. What happened? Where did all that energy go?

Then fifteen years later Vermeil stunned the football world when he became the Head Coach of The St.Louis Rams who had won a total of 36 games in 7 years. Vermeil struggled in season #1 finishing with a 5-11 record in 1997. In 1998 they were worse going 4-12.

!n 1999 Vermeil brought in Mike Martz to overhaul the Offense and added some key personnel. But the unlikely Hero was a free agent QB named Kurt Warner. Warner operated Martz’s offense in record setting fashion becoming “The Greatest Show on Turf”. The Rams won the Super bowl in dick’s third season. Vermeil retired from football.
Carl Peterson talked Vermeil into a comeback with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 and he coached 2 years going 14-18 and then retired for real.

Gordon Forbes captures the essence of Dick Vermeil and his greatest strength was also his greatest liability. His great work ethic was unsustainable by all except Clark Kent. I strongly recommend Dick Vermeil, it’s a great read and a great lesson for every coach.