Dick Vermeil had just gotten off a plane at the San Francisco airport Tuesday afternoon when his cell phone rang. It was David Baker, the president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was calling the former Eagles coach to let him know that he had just been selected as the coaching finalist for the Hall’s class of 2022.
“He said, ‘I’m not calling you to buy a case of wine; I’m calling you to tell you you’ve been selected as the coaching finalist,’” said Vermeil, who is the founder and owner of Vermeil Wines in his hometown of Calistoga, Calif.
“I’m heading to Calistoga now to work the vineyards for a few weeks,” the eternally young 84-year-old Vermeil said. “I’m back where I started from. Needless to say, we’ll be drinking some wine tonight to celebrate.”
Vermeil, who lives in Chester County, was selected Tuesday by a five-man panel of Hall of Fame selectors over six other finalists: Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Don Coryell, Marty Schottenheimer, Buddy Parker and Clark Shaughnessy.
Vermeil still needs to be approved by 80% of the Hall’s full 48-person selection committee. That vote will take place in February at the Super Bowl when the entire class of 2022 is selected. But it would be a shock if he didn’t get 80% of the vote.
If/when he’s voted in, Vermeil would be the third Eagle in the last five years to make it to Canton. Safety Brian Dawkins was part of the class of 2018, making it in his second year of eligibility.
Wide receiver Harold Carmichael, who played for Vermeil and is one of his closest friends, had to wait 31 years to get in. He made it as the senior nominee in 2020. Carmichael was enshrined earlier this month after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 induction ceremony. Vermeil was at his enshrinement.
Vermeil was hired by then-Eagles owner Leonard Tose in 1976. He had just won a conference championship at UCLA and beaten No. 1-ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
He took over a hapless Eagles franchise that finished 4-10 the year before and hadn’t had a winning season in nearly a decade. Even worse, Vermeil’s predecessor, Mike McCormack, had traded away all of the team’s top draft picks for over-the-hill veterans in a failed attempt to win right away, making it difficult for Vermeil to improve the team’s roster.
Vermeil had no picks in the first three rounds of the 1976 draft, none in the first four rounds of the ‘77 draft and no first- or second-round picks in the ‘78 draft. He didn’t have a first-round pick until his fourth season with the Eagles when he took linebacker Jerry Robinson with the 21st overall pick in the 1979 draft.
Nevertheless, Vermeil took the Eagles to the playoffs in his third season as head coach and got them to the Super Bowl in his fifth. Two years after the Eagles’ 27-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, he retired after the 1982 season, burned out from 20-hour workdays.
He became a successful college and NFL broadcaster but returned to coaching 15 years later with the St. Louis Rams. In his third year in St. Louis, the Rams won the Super Bowl, beating the Tennessee Titans, 23-16.
He retired again for a year, then took over the Kansas City Chiefs, where he worked for his longtime friend, Carl Peterson. Vermeil coached the Chiefs for five years, winning 13 games one season and 10 another before retiring for good after the 2005 season.
Vermeil had 120 wins in 15 years as an NFL head coach. He was 6-5 in 11 postseason games.