'As a head coach, you're a hood ornament'
Joined by the likes of Hank Stram, Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin, Dick Vermeil is a member of elite coaches that have both won and lost a Super Bowl.
Vermeil was just 44 when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles in their 27-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV (which, as fate would have it, was played in New Orleans). With a Super Bowl and an NFL Coach of the Year honor to his credit before his 45th birthday, Vermeil appeared primed to make the NFL his oyster. Instead, he walked away nine games into the 1982 season.
"As a head coach, you're a hood ornament. Everything goes through you." Vermeil told KTCK-AM in Dallas on Thursday. "I felt guilty when I wasn't working. I didn't feel right being at home, I felt I always had to be working."
So instead of coaching, Vermeil moved into broadcasting for CBS and ABC. And he stayed in broadcasting. And he stayed a little bit longer. For 15 years he stayed away from coaching. "I had an offer over the phone from an owner who said 'I have more money than I could ever spend. You could write your own contract.' That's not bragging, that's just a fact," Vermeil said.
It took until 1997, at age 60, for Vermeil to return to coaching with the St. Louis Rams. "I realized at age 60, if I didn't come back now I'd never get another shot again," he said.
The Rams went 5-11 and 4-12 in his first two seasons, and then quarterback Trent Green was injured in the preseason. Enter little-known quarterback Kurt Warner, and all of a sudden the Rams went 13-3 and won Super Bowl XXXIV, 23-16 over the Tennessee Titans. Once again Vermeil had led a team to the Super Bowl. Once again he was named the NFL's Coach of the Year. And once again he walked away.
"My kids wanted me at home," Vermeil said. But this retirement didn't stick. "We were handing out the Super Bowl rings in May, and I realized I'd made a mistake."
Vermeil would sit out the 2000 season and finish his career, this time for good, as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-05.
As one of the few coaches to come out on both sides of football's biggest game, Vermeil knows what it's like to reach the mountain top, and to be pushed down the mountain.
"I've always felt the negatives are magnified because of the stage and the postivies are magnified just because of the spotlight of the game," he said. "That's why you saw so many games really separate early. Now you're not seeing that as much. I think teams are handling the swings of the game and the weeks of preparation better, and coaches are doing a better job of helping their teams handle the good and bad swings during the game."
Indeed, in 1977 to 1997 only four Super Bowls were decided by less than 10 points. Since 1997, nine Super Bowls have been decided by single-digit margins, including four of the last five (and the lone outlier, the Saints 31-17 win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, was swung by a pick-six with just over three minutes remaining).
Considering Vermeil's Super Bowl win was not secure until the clock hit zero, Vermeil did not have a true realization of victory until the game was over. But that didn't damper the feeling of finally winning the Super Bowl.
"I wanted to find my family. I wanted to share it with them before I had to go see anyone else," said Vermeil. "You come up in coaching as a junior high coach or a high school coach and you see people on TV win the Super Bowl every year. For that to be you really brings it all together."
On winning, losing, walking away and coming back, Vermeil provides insight from a coach who's done it all.