Dick Vermeil recalls Eagles glory years in emotional Football Hall of Fame speech

Ohio State looked unbeatable.

It was New Years Day in 1976, and Ohio State was undefeated, undisputed, and the No. 1 consensus team in college football. They had won 11 games by an average of 34-7.

The Buckeyes won the Rose Bowl against a UCLA team 8-2-1 far from a perfect 12-0 season. They were favorites by 14 points in a clash between Woody Hayes, who had already won three national titles, and Dick Vermeil, who is in his second year as head coach at the university.

You can guess the rest.

UCLA, which lost to Ohio State by 21 points in October at the LA Coliseum, beat the unbeatable Buckeyes 23-10.

Vermeil spoke at length about that game Saturday in his Pro Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Canton, Ohio, not just because it was such a monumental victory for a 39-year-old coach, but because he directly led to becoming head coach of the Eagles.

“Thank you Bruins players and staff,” Vermeil said during his 20-minute speech. “Thank you for becoming a great sophomore football team and upsetting the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes.

“If you don’t, Philadelphia Eagles property won’t get on a plane right after the game – so help me God, it’s the truth – fly to Southern California, get rooms in hotel in Beverly Hills and start calling me and spending four days recruiting me to come coach your football team in Philadelphia.

“If my football team at UCLA and my coaching staff aren’t doing as good a job as they were then, I’m not here today.”

Five weeks later, Vermeil was in Philadelphia to be officially introduced as head coach of the Eagles. In two years, he led the Eagles to their first playoff berth since 1960. In 1980, the Eagles were a Super Bowl team, and Vermeil was among the most popular figures in Eagles history.

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Vermeil became the 28th head coach inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon, and while his acceptance speech touched on every aspect of his coaching career — from Hillsdale High School in California to UCLA in going through the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs – he took a long time to remember his seven years with the Eagles and so many people who were part of the team that brought the Eagles back to the fore after many dismal years .

He thanked owner Leonard Tose, who died in 2003, and Jim Murray, the West Philly native who was the Eagles’ general manager during Vermeil’s time here. Murray, one of the founders of Ronald McDonald House, is still alive and living in Montgomery County, but he is over 80 and was unable to make it to Ohio.

Vermeil thanked his three surviving assistant coaches from the 1980 Super Bowl team: tight ends coach Lynn Styles, who was in the audience Saturday at Canton McKinley Stadium, offensive line coach Jerry Wampfler and Carl Peterson.

Peterson went on to become general manager of the Philadelphia Stars as well as the Chiefs and hired Vermeil from KC in 2001. He introduced Vermeil for entrement on Saturday.

He also singled out Wilbert Montgomery and John Bunting, who both played for Vermeil with the Eagles and then coached under him, Bunting with the Rams, Montgomery with the Chiefs.

“Wilbert was responsible for a lot of the success we had in Philadelphia, and I made a coach out of him,” Vermeil said, then asking Montgomery to stand up, he added: “The players were calling him Wilbert Vermeil They knew how much I loved you.

Vermeil shared his memories of his two years working alongside legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, considered the greatest basketball coach of all time. Wooden won his 10th NCAA title in 1975 and then retired.

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Different sport. But that didn’t matter to Vermeil.

“I took every opportunity I had to hang out with John Wooden,” he said. “Yes, he coaches basketball, but when you watch him practice, the intensity, discipline and structure was there from great football coaching and great football coaching and it was so exciting and I learned so much from him.

“A philosophy that he planted in me in conversation, I think about it all the time. Once, I was complaining about the players we lost during recruitment. He said sit down. I sat down. When John Wooden says sit down, you sit down. He says, ‘Now listen coach, don’t worry about those players you don’t have. Just make sure you do a great job of making the ones you have the best they can be. And I operated by that simple philosophy the rest of my coaching career. It’s so true. So true. Damn, thank you John Wooden.

Vermeil never coached with Andy Reid, but they both lost a Super Bowl with the Eagles, won a Super Bowl with their second team, and also coached the Chiefs. During Reid’s years with the Eagles, the two became very close, and Vermeil said how much it meant to him that Reid — who will one day be a first-round Hall of Famer — soared to the northeast Ohio Saturday between Chiefs training camp practices in Missouri. Western State University.

“He’s the head coach at training camp, he left training camp, he came here to congratulate me personally last night,” Vermeil said.

“I have never had a better show of respect from anyone else in the profession in my coaching career than Andy Reid did for me last night. It will always touch me. Thanks Andy. It was amazing.

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