It’s been nearly 15 years since Dick Vermeil led the St. Louis Rams to their first Super Bowl championship. Our staff writer Wayne West caught up with him recently to talk about the Rams, his wine business and his career. Here is what Vermeil had to say:
Wayne West: Welcome to Rams Talk, Dick!
Dick Vermeil: Nice to be with you. How’s everything going out there?
West: Well, it’s finally cooling down in L.A., so we’re all thrilled out here. Where you calling from today?
Vermeil: I’m in Pennsylvania.
West: Is that where you’re living nowadays?
Vermeil: Yes, that’s where I live now.
West: You’re originally from Calistoga, California though right?
Vermeil: Right, Calistoga. That’s where our wine business is. I just got back from there, and I plan to go there again next week, but I’m back east for now.
West: So you grew up in an area renowned for wine. Obviously that had an effect on you, seeing as how you’re in the wine business now.
Vermeil: Well, I grew up with our Grandfather Vermeil making all our family wines. So I developed an interest in helping him, and I just never lost the interest. I said that one day when I get in the position, that I was going to start making wine as a hobby. So we started doing that in ’99, making a Vermeil wine, about 150-200 cases a year for fun. And then in 2008, when I was out of coaching, we turned that whole process into a business.
West: So what kind of wine were you drinking after you won the Super Bowl with the Rams?
Vermeil: Well, I don’t remember, but it wasn’t Vermeil Wines. (laughter) But [former Rams owner] Georgia Frontiere had champagne for everybody. Hopefully, it was from Napa Valley.
West: Haha. Sounds delicious. Now let’s get a little bit into your career for all the Rams fans and NFL fans in general. Obviously, you’ve always been noteworthy for resurrecting franchises, but you’ve also stood out for wearing your emotions on your sleeve. You also appeared to have a lot of love for your players. I think a lot of fans can really relate more to you because of that. How do you think your personality helped you to become such a great motivator and coach?
Vermeil: You know, I don’t know if it helped me. I think the important thing is to just be yourself. People who got to know me got to know my personality, both the intense side, the passionate side and the emotional side. They accept it as it is, as long as you establish credibility. So sometimes I think it’s a strength, other times it’s probably a weakness.
West: At what point did you feel like you really broke through and established that credibility? Was it when George Allen brought you on as the NFL’s first special teams coach? Was it before that at the college or high school level?
Vermeil: I think as you move up at any position, you always look to gain credibility at a different level. I gained credibility as a high school coach when we won the championship. I gained credibility in junior college coaching when we had the first winning record in the history of the junior college. I gained credibility in college when I took UCLA to the Rose Bowl, ya know? You have to do it over at every level, believe me.
West: Absolutely. That kind of leads us to your decision to hang it up after your Super Bowl with the Rams. What was behind that decision? It’s rare for people to step away when they’re on top of the mountain like that. What went into that moment?
Vermeil: Well, you know, I felt my family wanted me home. I was able to get something done that was always a dream. That dream was fulfilled. I was in my mid-60s. I felt it gave me an opportunity to leave my career on top, but with all that said and done, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have retired.
West: Why do you say that?
Vermeil: Well, I went right back into coaching after only one year out. (laughs) And I wasn’t coaching a Super Bowl team; I had to build one.
West: Back to square one, huh? But hey, you brought Trent Green along with you!
Vermeil: Yeah. Trent Green went to Kansas City with us and helped win our divison championship, but then we got beat in the playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning.
West: That was a shootout.
West: Going back to the Rams experience, of course those first couple seasons were tough, and then came ’99 and everything sort of aligned.
Vermeil: Right. Well, we were fortunate that the first two years we were building a program, drafting a program, and coaching a program. We had a lot of good assistants. We developed some good players and free agents like London Fletcher and Kurt Warner, and those kinds of guys. We developed all these guys in our process, and then after we got Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner, it took off. All of the sudden, we were a pretty good football team!
West: Absolutely. What were you thinking when Kurt comes in and started doing his thing? At what point did you and the staff realize that you had something special on your hands?
Vermeil: Well, I thought he could play and that we could could do well. I didn’t know that he could play at the level that he could, and I don’t think that he knew it. But about the fourth or fifth game of the season, I realized that we had something special.
West: Indeed you did. You’ve obviously worked with and known many special people in football. I know you’re part of the Sid Gillman coaching tree. You worked with George Allen and so many other legends. What football people do you find to be most inspirational or important to your career?
Vermeil: Well, I worked with Bill Walsh – we were assistants together at Stanford – and Jim Mora. They all were influential in my career. John Ralston, the head coach at Stanford, Tommy Prothro at UCLA and the Rams, like you said, George Allen was influential. Chuck Knox was a big inspiration to me and was a guy I learned an awful lot from. But I learned a lot from everybody including my assistants. You grow by learning from everybody.
West: Now here’s a question for Dick Vermeil the analyst. What do you think of the Rams direction right now? How do you feel about what their doing?
Vermeil: Well, I think they’re improved, and they’ll be better. I think they’ll win more games than they did last year and will have a shot at getting into the playoffs, barring any injuries. No team can afford to have a bunch of people hurt and still be a good team.
West: Little things can make a big difference with all the parity nowadays, huh?
Vermeil: Well, there are a lot of good teams, and if you call that parity, then that’s what it is. But, you’ve gotta be good, and you’ve gotta be healthy to keep winning.
West: Gotta pray for health. Well, I don’t want to take too much of your time, Dick. But could you let everybody at Rams Talk know how they can purchase some of your wine.
Vermeil: Well, they can look us up online by heading over Vermeilwines.com, and they can get it that way.
West: Okay, thanks for your time, Coach!
Vermeil: Alright, glad I had the opportunity to visit with you. Take care.
Rams fans! Be sure to enjoy some Vermeil Wine this season and beyond. Check out the stock at http://www.vermeilwines.com/index.cfm
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