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Every glass of wine ages on its table. Every chair and every Kawasaki dealer in the ball-room is turned toward the podium. At a front table, a small, gray-haired Japanese man, the emperor of Kawasaki, listens with his upper body tilted forward and his eyes narrowed. He has never heard of the speaker before, but in his country they once asked men like this to pilot Zeros down the smokestacks of enemy battleships.
"You got players who won't perform up to their level, don't keep them on your roster!" Dick Vermeil cries. "Get them selling! Give them time to think your way, and at the end of the year, if they don't, then cut 'em or waive 'em!"
His jaw is thrust out challengingly. Everything about him seems to have just burst out of a three-point stance, except his hair, which many years ago agreed to lie perfectly in place for the rest of his life. Now the jaw swivels from one side of the ballroom to the other.
"There's not a man in this room who works as hard as his dad," Vermeil declares. "Limits are self-imposed—there's no limit to human energy!"
He pauses. This speech was written and memorized back when coaching football was still his life, back when certainty was still his comrade. The jaw loses some of its jut.
"I found my limit," he admits.
He plunges back into the speech, and the fire catches inside him again. "My kids say to me, 'I'd never work as hard as you.' I'll tell you, one day there's going to be a wide-eyed awakening in this country when the young people see the results. There are seven days in a week and 24 hours in a day. If you're working a 40-hour week, you've got a helluva lot of hours at your Kawasaki dealership that you're wasting. I never gave a damn if it took 20 hours a day. I had a sign in our locker room that said, THE BEST WAY TO KILL TIME IS TO WORK IT TO DEATH."
He pauses. He's too honest for this. "Instead of 17 to 19 to 20 hours, I should have moderated it. I should have kept it to 14. I worked time to death...and it killed me."
He returns to the script, and the fanaticism returns to his voice. "People in management have got to learn to handle the negatives," he preaches. "People that interpret temporary setbacks as failure allow frustration to blind them."
Pause. "I've been guilty of this. You're looking at a failure. I licked 90 percent of the problems. The only problem I couldn't lick was myself."