When you think of serious NFL coaches, Bill Belichick probably springs to the forefront of your mind. Before he ever took charge of the New England Patriots, though, Dick Vermeil was already raining on parades.
In 1996, Vermeil packed his bags, headed to the east coast, and took charge of the Philadelphia Eagles. That appointment put him in the City of Brotherly Love during the United States bicentennial celebration, but, on that fateful Fourth of July, the new head coach wasn’t in the mood to have any fun.
Dick Vermeil and the Philadelphia Eagles teamed up in early 1976
If you ask an NFL fan about Dick Vermeil, they’ll probably remember his time running the St. Louis Rams during the late 1990s. While he achieved football immortality with the Greatest Show on Turf, that job wasn’t his first rodeo.
Vermeil started coaching at the high school level before taking on a couple of smaller college jobs. He got his first taste of the big-time in 1969, joining the Los Angeles Rams as a special teams coach. After a year back in the college ranks, where he served as UCLA’s offensive coordinator, the California native returned to the Rams as an fully-fledged assistant.
Vermeil rejoined the Bruins in 1974 and, during his second season on the job, led the team to a Rose Bowl victory. That success proved enough to earn him a chance at the next level.
After suffering through a 4-10 1975 campaign, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to make a coaching change. They plucked Vermeil from the college ranks, and, in February 1976, he took over as the club’s head coach.
The Eagles head coach had no time for revelry during his first Fourth of July in Philadelphia
In isolation, heading to Philadelphia in 1976 might not seem that significant. As history buffs will note, though, that July marked America’s bicentennial and, given its role in the country’s birth, the City of Brotherly Love threw quite the celebration.
But when the big day arrived, Vermeil wasn’t ready to celebrate. In the summer leading up to his first season as an NFL head coach, he was fully focused on getting to work.
“Back when he coached the Eagles in 1976, he was in a darkened room, breaking down film when his concentration was jarred by loud noises,” Larry Felser recalled in a 2000 Buffalo News story. “Annoyed, he called his assistant Carl Peterson, now president of the Kansas City Chiefs [Peterson has since moved on from that role], and asked him where the noise was coming from.”
The exchange between the two men unfolded as follows:
“Outside,” explained Peterson. “It’s the marching bands and the fireworks.”
“For what?” demanded Vermeil.
“The birthday celebration.”
“The country’s birthday, Dick, it’s the bicentennial celebration.”
“I don’t care whose birthday it is,” demanded Vermeil. “I want those bands to stop.”Larry Felser writing in the Buffalo News
Even in a sports-crazed town like Philadelphia, it’s safe to assume that Vermeil didn’t get his way.
Dick Vermeil’s effort didn’t pay off that season, but he still had a solid coaching career
For all of Vermeil’s efforts to work through the fourth of July, he didn’t find immediate success in Philadelphia. The Eagles finished the 1976 campaign with a 4-10 record, exactly the same as the previous year. Despite that early setback, the head coach eventually found his stride.
During the 1980 season, Vermeil led the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders. While making it to the Big Game is no mean feat, his greatest success came almost two decades later. After taking some time away from the sidelines, the head coach returned to action with the St. Louis Rams. Thanks to a serendipitous injury thrusting Kurt Warner into the starting lineup, the club’s offense exploded and Vermeil led his troops to victory in Super Bowl 34.
Vermeil would also spend five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring for the third and seemingly final time. These days, he’s free to enjoy the Fourth of July without having to engage in any film study.