From California kid to Philadelphia icon: Dick Vermeil’s Philly legacy is all about connection

Dick Vermeil only spent seven seasons as Eagles coach and he hasn’t been behind the scenes in South Philadelphia for 40 years, but the future Hall of Fame mentor left an indelible mark on the Valley of Delaware among which might be the toughest fanbase in professional sports.

Andy Reid will go down as one of the best coaches in NFL history whenever he decides to make a career out of it and while Big Red is fondly remembered by many in Philadelphia, he’s not Vermeil.

Doug Pederson gave Philadelphia what it wanted more than anything else to the point that the joke after Super Bowl LII was that the affable ex-quarterback got a lifetime waiver card after winning the Lombardi Trophy . This “lifespan” has come to be defined as three seasons in a city often defined by unrealistic expectations.

Somehow, Vermeil is the one who actually got this card despite growing up in Napa Valley, in many ways contrary to everything about the nature of Philadelphia’s lunch bucket.

When Vermeil is officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, fans across three cities will feel a sense of pride, but his time at the Eagles will be the headliner despite the coach winning his only Super Bowl ring in St. Louis with the biggest lawn show in the late 1990s.

What they really identified with was Vermeil’s vaunted work ethic.

The coach was ground zero for the sleep-on-the-couch mentality that has become a staple of NFL coaching expectations for generations to come.

That’s still the case today, though Vermeil learned from the burnout he suffered in Philadelphia when he returned 15 years later to coach the St. Louis Rams.

RELATED: Dick Vermeil to enter Hall of Fame as Eagles head coach

A wiser, more cunning Vermeil worked smarter not harder, eventually delegating more to his assistants and winning Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans.

“They liked my work ethic approach,” Vermeil said of Philly fans during a virtual media availability Tuesday. “At that time, we were quite structured, quite disciplined, quite demanding.”

Vermeil came to Philadelphia after a successful stint as UCLA head coach capped by a Rose Bowl victory in 1976. His no-nonsense approach with the Eagles wouldn’t matter much if it hadn’t was accompanied by a victory after almost two decades in opposition, however.

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It was from the 1960 NFL Championship that Philadelphia could be proud of its Eagles until Vermeil turned things around, culminating in victory in the 1980 NFC Championship Game over the hated Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium.

The Eagles didn’t quite seal the deal – losing Super Bowl XV to the Oakland Raiders – but just getting onto the big stage for the first time in the modern era was enough. to make Vermeil a grown man.

“When I came [to the Eagles] in 1976, they hadn’t been in the playoffs for I think 16 years,” Vermeil said. “When we went to 1978, it was the 18th year that we were finally in the playoffs.

“I think it helped people identify with what we do and why we do it.”

The very work ethic that fueled Vermeil’s success was ultimately his downfall, as the coach cited burnout before his first retirement in 1983.

Vermeil became a star in the TV booth at the college level before returning more than a decade later to St. Louis.

His home remained in Chester County, however, and his familiar billboard on I-95 as an insurance company spokesperson became a running joke as coaches came and went. , some even popular but never as popular as Vermeil.

“I invested a lot of time in the community and in different charities, different clubs and different businesses, and I met a lot of people that I didn’t know while coaching,” Vermeil said. “I was introduced to all the different levels of how people make a living in Philadelphia other than going to NFL games. I think that helped establish my credibility.

“It takes a long time to establish credibility, maybe only a few minutes to lose it, but to establish it takes time.”

Vermeil could have returned to Napa Valley after his last retirement or moved to the Midwest to bask in Super Bowl glory forever. The decision, however, was not difficult.

“I belong here. This is my community,” Vermeil said of the Deleware Valley. “They respect me, they care about me. They appreciate the work my staff and I have done with their Eagles football team, and they want me to stay in the community.”

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com’s Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Sports. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports talker Jody McDonald, every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube.com and JAKIBSports.com. You can reach John at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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