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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

Vermeil Enthralls New Jersey Coaches

Super Bowl Champion Coach Dick Vermeil captivated a crowd of 400 New Jersey coaches Friday night at the New Jersey Football Coaches Association (NJFCA) annual clinic in the practice bubble of Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ.

Vermeil, looking remarkably trim and fit at age 81, drew on his experience with legends such as Sid Gillman, Tommy Prothro, George Allen, John Ralston, Chuck Knox and Bill Walsh and his 32-year coaching career at the high school, junior college, college and NFL levels. Among the highlights:

  • "The number one concept is:  Make sure players know you care, and care with a purpose -- to make them better.  That's why you're tough on him, that's why you're hugging him, that's why you're telling him you love him, and that's why you're chewing his ass out -- to make him better."

  • "You, yourself, be a good example.  Your team will not be what you are not.  A lot of people are watching you.  Don't ever think you are not being evaluated, especially by your players."

  • "Create an atmosphere in which people enjoy working, a positive atmosphere.  I'm a big believer in a telling a kid he can.  'You can!'  I'll give you an example.  At UCLA one day, I walked by John Wooden's office with my chin down.  He said, 'What's wrong, Coach?'  I said, 'Geez, I lost about five blue-chippers to USC on Signing Day.'  He said, 'Listen, Coach, USC is always going to have better players than you.  Don't worry about it.  Just make each one you have the best he can possibly be, and everything else will take care of itself.'  The next year, we beat USC to go to theRose Bowl.  I never forgot that.  Always work from the positive." 

  • "You gotta go to work.  Sometimes it takes awhile to teach players that hard work is not a form of punishment.  It's not, it's a solution.  Teach them that a little fatigue is an ally.  I'd hear a player say on the practice field, 'Shit, I'm exhausted.'  I'd say, 'Be proud of yourself.  You just make a frickin' effort to get better.'  When we start teaching people that the effort they make, the sweat they put in, the pain they feel is a positive,  when they start believing it, buying into it and seeing it pay off on gameday, you are there!  Now they enjoy hard work, they laugh about it, they tease each other, they drink a beer over it.  At the Kansas City Chiefs, I'd go down to the locker room two hours after practice and 15 guys are still sitting there, and their wives are pissed because they're not home yet.  You build an atmosphere, they like to be there, they're working together.  Bring energy to the workplace."  

  • "Build relationships.  My wife and I have probably fed 95% of our players -- from my first job in high school through my last NFL team in 2005 -- at our home in the off-season, around our dinner table, sitting and listening to them.  And invariably, when we get together years later, they talk about those evenings.  They don't talk about the games.  They ask, 'Is Mrs. Vermeil still making that appetizer with guacamole and chile?'  It's amazing.  Building relationships.  I was on the phone for a half hour today with Trent Green, my quarterback in St. Louis and Kansas City.  The last thing he said before we hung up was, 'Coach, I love you.'  Does that happen often in the NFL?  It happens a ton."

  • "I surrounded myself with people I could trust, and they knew they could trust me, no matter what, no matter how tough it was.  I once had an owner call me in and say, 'You've got to fire that assistant coach.'  I said, 'Bullshit, I go before he does.  I'm not firing him.  He's a good football coach.'"   

  • On ordering the Oklahoma Drill to open practice in 1974, his first season as head coach at UCLA:  "First matchup was Frank Manumaleuna, a freshman, finest linebacker I ever coached at any level, against Randy Cross, offensive guard who ended up playing 15 years in the NFL.  Oh, boy!  Manumaleuna dropped his ass.  Boom!  Randy Cross, best offensive lineman I've got, is out two weeks.  My first live practice at UCLA.  Never did that drill again.  If I wanted to teach something within that principle, I did it a different way, maybe a more intelligent way.  I learned.  A lot of whatTerry (O'Neil) is telling you about Practice Like Pros will help you at any level.  It helped me win a world championship.  If I'd continued beating the shit out of my players, we never would have won that Super Bowl in 1999.  Our starting offense played the entire season other than one lineman missing one game. Why were they called "The Greatest Show on Turf?"  Because they were completely healthy..."  

O'Neil said, "It so easy to see why Dick's teams busted their ass for him.  He's the most human, most approachable coach I've ever known.  He connected so easily with these high school coaches.  Before and after his presentation, hundreds of them lined up to shake his hand, ask a question, take a selfie with him.  You could see their pride at working in the same profession as Dick Vermeil.  We're so lucky to have him as a supporter of Practice Like Pros." 

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