On the biggest day of Harold Carmichael’s football life earlier this month, on the day he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he used part of his acceptance speech to make a pitch for his close friend and former coach, Dick Vermeil.
“Coach,” Carmichael said, “I hope you’re in the next class of inductees. You deserve it. And you’ve got a lot of guys that are pulling for you right now.”
Carmichael was referring to the dozens of former Eagles who played for Vermeil in the 1970s and ‘80s and were in Canton along with Vermeil to celebrate Carmichael’s enshrinement.
Vermeil is one of seven head-coaching finalists for the class of 2022, along with Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Don Coryell, Buddy Parker, and Clark Shaughnessy.
Holmgren is 16th in career coaching victories (161) and took three teams — the 1996 and ‘97 Packers and 2005 Seahawks — to Super Bowls. His ‘96 Packers won it all.
Reeves is 10th in career wins (190). He won three AFC titles with Denver and one NFC title with Atlanta but was winless in four Super Bowl appearances.
Schottenheimer is eighth in wins (200) and had a .613 winning percentage. But he was 5-13 in the postseason and never won a conference title.
Coryell had a .572 winning percentage in 14 seasons. But like Schottenheimer, he never won a conference title. He had a 3-6 postseason record.
Parker coached the Detroit Lions from 1951 to′56, and the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1957 to′64. He won back-to-back NFL titles with the Lions in ‘52 and ‘53.
Shaughnessy was a longtime college coach who was an NFL head coach for only two years, with the Los Angeles Rams in 1948-49. He was one of the game’s early innovators, modernizing the “T” formation and developing the “pro-set” three wide-receiver formation, among other things.
A committee of five Hall of Fame selectors will hold a Zoom meeting Tuesday to nominate one of those seven. The nominee then will need the approval of 80% of the Hall’s full 48-member selection board, which will meet in Los Angeles in February at the Super Bowl to vote on the entire class of 2022.
But whoever is nominated this week almost certainly will get the necessary 80% approval in February.
The Hall of Fame created a separate coaching category in 2020. Before that, coaches were in the same pool with modern-era players. In the previous 13 years, just two coaches — Tony Dungy (2016) and Bill Parcells (2013) — had been inducted.
Two coaches — Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher — were selected in 2020 under the new format. Tom Flores, whose Oakland Raiders beat Vermeil’s Eagles in Super Bowl XV, was the 2021 choice, and was inducted earlier this month.
The outcome of that game has had a dramatic impact on the legacies of both Flores and Vermeil. Without that Super Bowl win — one of two that Flores had with the Raiders — he probably wouldn’t have been a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame.
If the Eagles had won that game (they lost, 27-10, Jan. 25, 1981), Vermeil, who won his only Super Bowl 19 years later with the St. Louis Rams, almost certainly would be in Canton already.
Vermeil vs. Holmgren
Tuesday’s vote appears to be a two-horse race between the 84-year-old Vermeil and the 73-year-old Holmgren.
Holmgren has a clear numbers edge over Vermeil. While both have one Super Bowl win, Holmgren has more wins — 160 to 120, a better winning percentage — .592 to .524 and more postseason appearances — 12 in 17 years compared to six in 15 for Vermeil.
But the wild card is the job Vermeil did in Philadelphia with the Eagles under some very difficult circumstances. He took over an awful team in 1976 when he left UCLA to work for owner Leonard Tose. The Eagles hadn’t had a winning season in nearly a decade when Vermeil was hired.
Even worse, his predecessor, Mike McCormack, had left him with a completely barren draft cabinet, trading away one pick after another for over-the-hill veterans in a failed George Allen-like future-is-now attempt.
The Eagles finished 4-10 in McCormack’s last year. 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 pick in the ‘78 draft.
Keep in mind, this was long before the advent of free agency. So, the draft and trades were basically the only ways to improve your roster.
But even without any high picks, he and his personnel chief, Carl Peterson, still managed to find some late-round gems in the draft who helped turn the Eagles around.
Defensive end Carl Hairston, a seventh-round pick in ‘76, ended up playing 15 years in the NFL. He had 15½ sacks for the Eagles in 1979 and nine more in the Eagles’ Super Bowl season in ‘80.
Wilbert Montgomery was a sixth-round pick out of Abilene Christian in the ‘77 draft. He’s second in franchise history in both rushing yards (to LeSean McCoy) and rushing touchdowns (to Steve Van Buren) and rushed for 194 yards in the Eagles’ epic 20-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the ‘80 NFC title game.
Vermeil got the Eagles to the playoffs in his third year. They made it to the postseason again in ‘79, and then all the way to the Super Bowl in ‘80.
The 20-hour workdays finally caught up with him after the ‘82 season and he retired. But 15 years later, he returned to coaching, taking over another reclamation project in St. Louis. The Rams hadn’t been to the playoffs in seven years. On top of that, the game — and the players — had changed a lot in the decade-and-a-half that Vermeil had been away from coaching.
You couldn’t work players the way Vermeil did in Philly. It took him the better part of a year to figure that out and change his approach. But he managed to do it. In his third year in St. Louis, the Rams and their “Greatest Show On Turf” offense beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, 23-16, on Jan. 30, 2000.
Vermeil retired after the Super Bowl, but he was coaxed back into the game a year later by his longtime friend Peterson, who was running the Kansas City Chiefs. Vermeil spent five years in KC. The Chiefs won 13 games and made the playoffs in his third year there, and they won 10 games in his 2005, his last year of coaching.