Philadelphians start year cheered by prospect of Vermeil's return

ON THE NFL

January 01, 1995|By VITO STELLINO

It was Page 1 news in Philadelphia on Christmas morning that a man bearing gifts might be arriving in town soon.

Santa Claus?

No way. They've booed him in Philadelphia.

The excitement was about the possibility that Dick Vermeil might be ready to come home.

When Vermeil was inducted into the Eagles' Honor Roll on Dec. 18, he got a warm welcome from the fans at Veterans Stadium.

After all, he is the only coach to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and they're passionate about the Eagles in Philadelphia.

On Christmas Eve, despite a six-game losing streak, the Eagles got a 35.2 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) for their final game against the Cincinnati Bengals. By contrast, the Washington Redskins got just a 19.1 rating in Washington for their finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

The thought of Vermeil returning makes Eagles fans think that happy days could be here again.

But before those fans get too excited, they have to realize it may never happen. The real question, though, is why he would consider returning in the first place.

It just shows you how strong the siren song is for coaches. Even after 12 years, it's hard to resist its call.

For Vermeil to come back, though, could be a mistake. He's the guy who invented coaching burnout, the intense round-the-clock worker who drove himself batty.

Vermeil's apologists insist it'd be different this time.

"I think he'll come back, and this time I think he'll work things through very carefully," his former quarterback, Ron Jaworski, said last week. "You'll find he's changed a bit. He'll find ways to relax."

Sure.

Vermeil can't change his style. He is who he is. Once he got back into it, he would be intense.

He also would be walking away from a TV gig that is one of the great jobs in America -- a color commentator. He gets a six-figure salary for a bunch of 10-second sound bites that any knowledgeable fan watching in his living room could make.

And then there's the Jeff Lurie factor. Lurie is one of these new breed of owners who wants to run the team himself. When Lurie fired Rich Kotite, he said a new owner gets to evaluate the coach.

"I don't care if it's Vince Lombardi," he said.

Can you imagine Lurie -- whose main credential is producing several movies that flopped -- evaluating Vince Lombardi? Did Lombardi win enough to suit Lurie? Working for Lurie isn't going to be a picnic.

There's also no guarantee that Vermeil II would be as successful as Vermeil I. A lot has changed in his 12-year absence.

Remember that Super Bowl that Vermeil took the Eagles to? His Eagles were blown out in Super Bowl XV, 27-10, by the Oakland Raiders. The opposing coach was Tom Flores, who was fired last week by the Seattle Seahawks.

So Vermeil has the choice of living happily ever after in the TV booth or taking all the aggravation that goes with coaching.

That means he'll probably go back to coaching. Giving it up is almost as hard as giving up smoking.

The choice

Ann Landers likes to tell wives who are ready to dump their husbands to ask themselves: "Are you better off with him or without him?"

Denver Broncos coach Pat Bowlen should have thought of that question two years ago when he fired Dan Reeves as coach.

It's easy to understand why Bowlen did it. Living with Reeves is not easy. He acts like he's the owner. He wants to run the whole show.

But Reeves can coach. He took the New York Giants to a 9-7 record this season with a team that wasn't much better than the Redskins, who were 3-13.

Bowlen's first choice as Reeves' replacement was Wade Phillips, who was easy to get along with, but didn't win enough to suit Bowlen. Now he has to try to find another Reeves.

Meanwhile, Reeves is showing why Bowlen fired him.

He has made various comments during the year complaining

that the Giants didn't do as good a job in free agency as the San Francisco 49ers (nobody else did, either) and that he doesn't have enough input.

Reeves forgets that when he was out of work two years ago, he applied for the Giants' job and said he'd have no trouble working for general manager George Young. That was then. This is now.

After the Giants ended their season last week, Reeves took up the theme again.

"I'd like to have more say-so as to where our money goes, as far as who we keep and we let go," he said. "Rather than just make a decision on who's a priority and who's not, but also to have more of a say on where that money is going to go and who we spend it on and who we're going to lose."

Young brushed all this off, as he has done all year. He knows Reeves can coach, so he'll put up with it.

"All those things will be worked out internally like they always have been," Young said. "I think coaches should have input into the team like they always have. Arbitrary is not a word in my dictionary."

Coach-speak

When Dennis Erickson said last week that he's staying at the University of Miami, you might assume that means he's staying there.

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