It’s only a 45-minute drive from suburban Bryn Mawr to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. But to Dick Vermeil, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, that’s 45 minutes down the drain. So when her husband climbs into his Mustang at 7 every Monday morning, Carol Vermeil knows she probably won’t see him again until Thursday night. “Football,” says Vermeil, “is It for me. It’s what I’m thinking about 24 hours a day. But 24 hours aren’t enough for a coach.”
Vermeil’s devotion to duty has paid spectacular dividends. When he arrived in Philadelphia in 1976, the Eagles hadn’t had a winning season in 10 years. Today they are the winningest team in the National Football League and the first to clinch a play-off spot. The credit belongs largely to 44-year-old Vermeil, 1979 NFL Coach of the Year. “He’s the greatest,” beams Eagles owner Leonard Tose. “I’d give him almost anything to keep him happy.”
Indeed, Tose has extended Vermeil’s contract (at a reported $250,000 per) through 1985 and showers his coach with gifts ranging from cases of Dom Perignon champagne to vacations in Acapulco. But when can Vermeil enjoy such civilities? He spends most of his nights in the depths of Veterans Stadium. His office is equipped with a fold-out bed. “Some-times I wake up and want to study the film of some play,” he explains. “I couldn’t do that at home without waking up everybody else.” Vermeil expects similar dedication from staff and players: He is noted for his long practice sessions and rigorous training camps. He once put together a play-book of more than 1,000 pages that weighed 18 pounds. “He’s very demanding,” agrees Eagles running back Wilbert Montgomery, “but he’s got us to that level where we feel we can do whatever he says.”
Vermeil, who lets quarterback Ron Jaworski call 90 percent of the plays, is an animated figure on the sidelines. Every emotion shows. One of his two sons usually trails behind, ostensibly to keep Dad, as he puts it, “from getting tangled up in the damn headphone wires,” but, Vermeil admits, their most important filial duty is “pulling me off the field when I get mad.” After each game a Philadelphia priest leads Vermeil and his players in prayer. With tears in his eyes, the coach concluded such a session after a recent victory. “Guys,” he said, his voice cracking, “we’re a damn good football team. We believe in one another. Hey, we all love each other. Son of a bitch, I’m proud of you.”
Vermeil was born in Calistoga, Calif., where his father owns an auto repair shop. Summers Dick was on call for 24-hour towing service. “That’s how I learned to get along on five hours’ sleep,” he explains. He played high school football and in 1957-58 was starting quarterback at San Jose State.
He went straight into coaching and worked at every level from high school to NFL assistant (with the Los Angeles Rams). His biggest moment came when the UCLA team he had coached for two years upset Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl. A month later he was hired by the Eagles.
Carol Vermeil, 44, is philosophical about her husband’s fanatical schedule. They were high school sweethearts and, she says, “After 25 years you get to know someone pretty well. He does his best at what he does, and I do my best at home. It’s an old-fashioned kind of marriage.” Vermeil likes to fish and hunt, but vacations are rare. “He’s completely rested and restless after three days,” reports Carol.
Not that Vermeil is indestructible. “Some days,” he allows, “I don’t think I can take another year; other days, I think I can go for 10 more.” Most of his days are like that now since the Eagles are 11-2 and early favorites for the Super Bowl. His job may be demanding but, as Vermeil puts it, “If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning isn’t very exciting.”