Work in Sports
'The time is right'
Rams' Vermeil decides to leave football as champion
Posted: Monday February 07, 2000 02:10 PM
ST. LOUIS (CNNSI.com) -- Dick Vermeil's voice broke and the tears flowed -- one final time as an NFL coach.
The league's most emotional coach, standing within arm's reach of the Super Bowl trophy his St. Louis Rams won only two days earlier and referred to as "Champ" by the team president, stepped away from the game Tuesday.
It was a scenario that would unsettle the most manly of men. One knew that Vermeil, who seemingly wept at the drop of a hat during his three seasons in St. Louis, would not even attempt to rein himself in.
Vermeil, 63, said it was an "unbelievable feeling" to leave as a champion. He's going out on top.
"I think the time is right," he said. "Very few people in this profession get this opportunity."
Vermeil's quick decision had a lot to do with emotion. He didn't want to be involved with the free agency period that starts Feb. 11, so he leaves with two years to go on a five-year, $9 million contract.
"I don't want to participate in that," Vermeil said. "I don't want to cut the squad. These are my guys."
Owner Georgia Frontiere tried to talk Vermeil out of it, team president John Shaw said he should at least wait to make sure and special teams coach Frank Gansz made an impassioned plea. Rams players just wanted the best for the coach who made it a point to get to know all of them.
"I feel indebted to coach Vermeil," said linebacker London Fletcher, who also urged Vermeil to stick around. "He gave me an opportunity that maybe nobody else would have and I'm very grateful."
"It's a great legacy," Jones said, "going from worst to first."
San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh, a longtime friend of Vermeil, agreed with the coach that the time was right.
"At this stage of his life, he's accomplished everything," Walsh said. "Now it's time for him to thoroughly enjoy the rewards of what he's accomplished."
This exit was a lot different than the first time he walked away from NFL coaching, complaining of burnout when he left the Philadelphia Eagles in 1982.
The decision elevates offensive coordinator Mike Martz to coach. The Rams signed Martz, who directed the NFL's top-rated offense (33 points a game), to a two-year contract in January that assured he would inherit Vermeil's job.
"I told everyone before the season that Mike Martz was the type of coach who would go after it -- from the first game to the last," said Isaac Bruce, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
Martz, scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday for a neck problem, didn't attend the news conference. A Rams spokesman said Martz would postpone surgery and hold a news conference Wednesday morning.
Vermeil coached two Super Bowl teams 19 years apart. He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1981, and that 27-10 loss fueled his return to the profession in 1997.
Vermeil led the Rams to a 13-3 record this year after winning only nine games his first two years. Following last year's 4-12 mark, there was talk that he could be fired.
The players weren't happy, either. Most of it was only grumbling because of extremely hard practices that often left the players exhausted before they stepped on the field on Sundays.
Four prominent players, including cornerback Todd Lyght, boycotted the final team meeting of the 1998 season. That sent a message to the coach, who described it at the time as a "shot in the back."
Vermeil, however, weathered the problems and led the team to an incredible turnaround.
In his first stint as an NFL coach with the Eagles from 1976-82, Vermeil called the plays and basically ran the whole show with an iron fist. When he returned, he became a benevolent overseer.
As is his trademark, Vermeil fought back tears throughout the news conference. Sometimes, he lost the battle and choked up, especially when he talked about his players and the Rams organization.
"I don't have the ability to verbalize how I feel," he said. "I'm so appreciative of what my coaching staff has done. And these players, geez, these guys are unbelievable."
During the Super Bowl buildup, Vermeil hedged on his future. On one hand, he liked coaching. On the other hand, Carol Vermeil, his wife of 44 years, told him: "What else do you have to prove?"
Vermeil said his wife brought up the possibility of retirement after the Rams beat the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs. They talked about it again following the parade through downtown St. Louis on Monday, a day after the Rams' 23-16 victory.
Finally, the couple discussed retirement again, briefly, Tuesday morning. Vermeil said, however, it was strictly his decision.
"I love these guys, too," Carol Vermeil said. "After my own boys, I call them my boys. But there's a time for everything."
Vermeil said he'll pursue a job in television again. During his 15-year hiatus from coaching, Vermeil was a college football analyst. He also plans to spend time at his Philadelphia area ranch with his wife.
Two sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren live nearby.
"We're world champions," Vermeil said. "How many coaches can go out having participated in a world championship contest?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.