Through a long and enormously successful head coaching career in the NFL that spanned 15 seasons with three teams including the Eagles from 1976-82, Dick Vermeil exhibited compassion, drive, understanding, and a creative football mind that netted him some of the game's greatest gifts – a Super Bowl appearance with Philadelphia in the 1980 season, a Super Bowl victory with the St. Louis Rams in the 1999 season, and a 2003 AFC West title with the Kansas City Chiefs. Along the way, Vermeil was twice named the league's best head coach and he proved himself to be a versatile communicator and motivator in a career that spanned nearly four decades and included 15 seasons as one of television's top game analysts.
On Thursday night, Vermeil was awarded the highest individual honor as he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022 in a prime-time broadcast during NFL Honors. Vermeil will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, August 6.
Said Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie in a statement: "Congratulations to Dick Vermeil on his well-deserved selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During his seven seasons in Philadelphia, Dick elevated the standard for success for this franchise and led the organization to its first Super Bowl appearance.
"His passion and love for the game, his players, and our city are among the reasons he remains a beloved figure in Eagles history to this day. Dick's contributions to the game of football go far beyond his time in Philadelphia. His success as a head coach spanned more than three decades and included a Rose Bowl victory with UCLA and a Super Bowl Championship with the Rams. That is quite the resume and a testament to the type of man and leader he is. We could not be prouder of Dick, and we look forward to celebrating this tremendous occasion with him and his family in Canton."
Vermeil broke into the NFL with the Eagles in 1976 after a two-season stint as UCLA's head coach. At the time, the Eagles were a bumbling franchise having missed the playoffs in each of the previous nine seasons (they played in something called the Playoff Bowl in 1966) and failing to finish above .500 in any of those seasons (their best year was in 1974 when head coach Mike McCormack posted a 7-7 record). Vermeil established a culture early in his tenure and while his records in 1976 (4-10) and 1977 (5-9) weren't noteworthy, he laid the groundwork for success in Year 3 when the Eagles finished 9-7 and reached the postseason in 1978.
"He led by example and wasn't going to have anyone outwork him. He got rid of some of the bad guys on our team and we turned the corner from there," said middle linebacker Bill Bergey, a member of the Eagles' Hall of Fame. "I can honestly say that, to this day, he is one of my best friends. You don't hear that about many coaches. I always say that I wish I could be more like Dick Vermeil, because he did everything the right way. He instilled in us the hard work that we were going to go through and he had certain things that he commanded. The first year – 'Keep your helmet on. Don't take a knee! I'll tell you when you can get some water.' I said to myself, 'Who is this Harry High School coach?' But guys who didn't want to buy in, they were gone. If you bought in, you were part of turning the franchise around."
"Those were some tough years," Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Harold Carmichael said. "We weren't a very good team. We had a history of losing and we had that mentality. Slowly, Dick turned it around. He made us accountable. That was the big thing. He made us understand that we were responsible for the wins and losses and that our actions were what would either help us win or lose games."
Once the Eagles started winning with Vermeil as the head coach, they took off. From 9-7 and a 14-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs in 1978, the Eagles went 11-5 the following season and reached the NFC Divisional Round, losing 24-17 to Tampa Bay. During that season, Voice of the Eagles and franchise Hall of Famer Merrill Reese said, the Eagles earned their wings.
"In November of that season the Eagles played at Dallas, a team that had beaten us nine straight times (and in 21 of 23 games dating back to the 1967 season) and the Eagles went into the game with a lot of confidence," Reese said. "But then quarterback Ron Jaworski was injured and backup John Walton came in and played a great game. Tony Franklin kicked a 59-yard field goal. The Eagles won the game 31-21 and we all knew that this team had arrived as a legitimate Super Bowl-contending team."
The next year, 1980, the Eagles reached the Super Bowl after compiling a 12-4 regular-season record and capturing the NFC East. In the NFC Championship Game that season, the Eagles defeated their archrival, the Cowboys, 20-7 at Veterans Stadium to advance to Super Bowl XV. The Eagles fell to Oakland in that game, 20-7, but they had shed the losing label. Vermeil coached the Eagles for two more seasons – posting a 10-6 record in 1981 before slumping to a 3-6 record in a strike-interrupted 1982 season.
After that year, Vermeil cited burnout as a reason for his retirement from coaching. He spent the next 15 seasons in the broadcast booth before returning to the sidelines as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 1997. Three seasons later, the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV. Vermeil retired for a second time following that win, but again returned to coach Kansas City from 2001-03.
All of these seasons later, Vermeil – inducted into the Eagles' Hall of Fame in 1994 after posting a 57-51 record in his seven seasons in Philadelphia – has gotten his due as one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the league.
"It's just tremendous that he was finally recognized for his achievements as a head coach in the NFL," said Jaworski, whose acquisition via trade by the team in 1977 helped key the turnaround. "It is certainly a well-deserved honor. No question he did so many wonderful things for so many players. He was a compassionate, caring coach who, to this day, has a bond with his former players. He cared about people. A lot of coaches in today's NFL use players as disposable products. Coach cared. When players left the game, he reached out and showed that he cared about the players as people. That's special. Dick was a special coach and he's a special man and there are a lot of people happy that he has been named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame."