Dick Vermeil saved Philadelphia Eagles football.
That is not hyperbole. When Vermeil was hired prior to the 1976 season, the franchise was perhaps the worst in the NFL, a laughing stock, and had been for the better part of a generation. Following their NFL championship over the Green Bay Packers in 1960, the Eagles went 10-4 in ‘61 and then proceeded to have a winning record just once over the next 16 seasons. They finished in last place seven times and won four games or fewer seven times.
That was the situation Dick Vermeil walked into when he was hired away from UCLA. In his third season, the Eagles made the playoffs. In his fifth, they won the NFC Championship and went to Super Bowl XV. And as a result, he became a legend in Philadelphia
But Philly is not the only place where Coach Vermeil is revered. After a lengthy hiatus from coaching, he returned to the NFL in 1997 and led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title in his third season there, and then helmed the Kansas City Chiefs to a 44-36 record (.550) over five seasons before retiring for good following the 2005 season.
Now, Dick Vermeil can add “Hall of Fame” to his list of accolades.
In seven seasons with the Eagles, Vermeil made four trips to the playoffs and compiled a 54-47 record (.535). Over his 15-year career, he went 120-109 (.524) and resurrected the fortunes of two down-and-out franchises (Eagles and Rams).
His signature season in Philadelphia was 1980. That team went 12-4, led by a ferocious 3-4 defense, an MVP-caliber season from QB Ron Jaworski and relentless production from All Pros Wilbert Montgomery and Harold Carmichael. They won the NFC East by earning a tie-breaker over the Cowboys and a first round bye. In the divisional round, they overcame an early 14-0 deficit and crushed the Minnesota Vikings 31-16, setting up an NFC Championship Game at Veterans Stadium against their hated division rivals.
The rest, of course, is history. In a dominating defensive performance on an ice-cold day, the Birds froze the Cowboys 20-7 and earned a trip to their first Super Bowl.
Of course, the story would have been amazing had the Eagles found a way to get past the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, but the 1980 season is still remembered as one of the greatest in franchise history. Last year, I had a chance to talk with Coach Vermeil about that ‘80 season and his memories of it all.
Vermeil’s tenure with the Eagles ended after the 1983 season, citing burnout. He migrated to the broadcast booth where, for 15 years, he became one of the best color commentators on college football in America, teamed with the great Brent Musburger on ABC. However, the coaching itch came back and Vermeil returned to the NFL with the Rams in 1997. Three years later, as head coach of The Greatest Show on Turf, Vermeil won his first Super Bowl title.
His coaching legacy is so good that it has spawned the Dick Vermeil Cinematic Universe, where he is played by Greg Kinnear in the Vince Papale biopic “Invincible” and by Dennis Quaid in the Kurt Warner film “American Underdog.” How many other coaches can say that?
Vermeil’s 120 head coaching wins are 35th-most in NFL history and he is one of just seven coaches to take two different franchises to the Super Bowl. The 19 years between those Super Bowls with the Eagles and Rams is the largest gap of any coach.
Vermeil will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, August 6.