Legendary Eagles coach Dick Vermeil believes that, with fewer injuries, Doug Pederson’s Eagles would have run away with the NFC East title despite a tough schedule and Carson Wentz’s cataclysmic struggles.
“Personally, I say this: They’d have won 10 games probably this year if they hadn’t had all the injuries,” Vermeil said Wednesday morning. “I just believe that. No one’s going to change my mind.”
The Eagles finished 4-11-1 in a historically bad division that saw Washington win at 7-9. Vermeil didn’t mention Wentz specifically, and while Wentz was never injured, six of his top seven offensive linemen, his top three receivers, both tight ends, and the No. 1 running back all missed significant time.
Vermeil spoke at 11 a.m. Wednesday to 94-WIP midday hosts Jon Ritchie and Joe DeCamara in the heart of the station’s “Doug Pederson Day,” honoring the Eagles coach whom owner Jeffrey Lurie fired last week. Vermeil admires Pederson, whose deteriorated relationship with Wentz and whose emboldened efforts to hire his own staff led to his sudden — and, in Vermeil’s eyes, unwarranted — dismissal.
“I was really surprised it happened,” admitted Vermeil, who has a history of derision for Lurie. “And very disappointed.”
Pederson told the Inquirer that he likely won’t coach in 2021, but Vermeil thinks he’ll have no problem finding work in the near future. Not after going 42-37-1 in five years with the Eagles. Not after winning a Super Bowl just three years ago, with a decimated, underdog team that lost Wentz in Game 13.
“He did a hell of a job, especially that year,” said Vermeil, perhaps the most emotional coach in Philadelphia history, who recalled the night the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII: “I was in tears. It was so easy to emotionally identify with that team.”
Pederson not only got players to play hard, he’s an underappreciated X-and-O wizard, Vermeil said. Pederson — who operated without an offensive coordinator this season — endured considerable criticism regarding his game plans and play-calling, especially in 2020. Vermeil indicated that, in his 21 seasons as a head coach or play-caller at the high school, college, and NFL levels, he struggled to make the right call in the right moment.
He considers Pederson exceptionally gifted in that aspect.
“I thought he did an unbelievable job of calling plays under pressure in the intense pressure situations. Because so many times he was put in that situation and he came up with a great call,” Vermeil said.
The “Philly Special” trick play that duped Bill Belichick and the Patriots is just the icing on Pederson’s play-calling cake.
“Far more than that ‘Philly Philly’ Super Bowl call,” Vermeil insisted. “There were many of them. Sometimes it was just third-down calls. Sometimes it was third-and-long calls. Sometimes it was red-zone calls. I just thought he had tremendous poise.”
Vermeil feels a kinship with Pederson rooted in their development as coaches. He said that Pederson having played for coaches such as Don Shula, Mike Holmgren, and Andy Reid, and having been teammates with stars such as Brett Favre and Dan Marino, helped mold Pederson as a strategist. As for himself, Vermeil pointed to Bill Walsh, a former teammate at San Jose State with whom he coached at Stanford, and George Allen, under whom he coached with the Rams.
Vermeil, who displayed deep emotional intelligence as a coach, sympathized with Pederson’s constant quandary: How much of a “player’s coach” should he be?
A group of former Eagles threw a party to celebrate Vermeil’s return to the NFL in 1997 after a 15-year hiatus, at which 10-year Eagles safety Randy Logan thanked Vermeil for being a “tough love guy.” That word — Love — was the watchword for the Eagles teams of 2017 and 2018, when charismatic backup Nick Foles led the team to a 4-1 playoff record and won the MVP award at the Super Bowl. That word was heard less and less after Foles’ departure.
Vermeil felt a particular connection with the 2017 Eagles, a close-knit group who reminded him of his 1999 Rams team that lost starter Trent Green in the preseason to a knee injury. Those Rams became the Greatest Show on Turf, went 13-3 and won Super Bowl XXXIV with backup Kurt Warner — who, like Foles, was a charismatic, Christian understudy. Vermeil had vowed that the Rams would succeed with Warner, just as Pederson vowed the Eagles could be champions with Foles.
Both just knew.
“You do it because you sincerely believe in this person because you, as a coach, have seen him operate every day. In the meeting rooms. On the field,” Vermeil said. “You develop confidence in him.”
Vermeil offered revealing, humble reflections on his personal growth as a coach, the sort of wisdom that transcends football. That growth continued when he was a broadcaster during his time away from coaching. As he prepared for the weekend’s game Vermeil held conversations with players — who, he realized, crave even-handed discipline.
He also discovered that not every player responds to the same sort of messaging: “Finding out what worked with this guy and what worked better with this guy.”
That’s advice Pederson could use. Of course, Vince Lombardi would have struggled to win with so many pieces missing from this Eagles team — but then, that might portend well for the next edition.
“A lot of money sitting on the bench watching the game. All the guys you paid to play real well aren’t there,” Vermeil said. “But what happens is (the backups) ... are getting real, true, game-time repetitions. And they get better.”
Players such as offensive linemen Jordan Mailata and Nate Herbig and receivers Greg Ward and Travis Fulgham fall into that category. Vermeil believes those sorts of players could emerge as major contributors in 2021, and maybe become “permanent starters.”
But not for Pederson. At least, not in Philadelphia. Still — even though Pederson’s star has fallen after just one playoff win since Super Bowl LII and after TankGate — Vermeil sees Pederson returning to the sidelines.
“I think he will. And he’ll be a better coach. We all learn through adversity,” Vermeil said. “Especially when you’re not a big ego guy.”
This, from the coach with the smallest ego in NFL history.
“I’m sure he has a list of things he’ll do differently next time,” Vermeil said.
Pederson could have copied No. 1 on the list from Vermeil’s:
Don’t work for Jeffrey Lurie.