Dick Vermeil will enter the Hall of Fame as an Eagle, but his Kansas City connections remain strong
The former Kansas City Chiefs head coach will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Seventeen years after leaving the franchise, his time in Kansas City is still making an impact.
Former coach Dick Vermeil will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
Though he’ll enter the Hall as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, Vermeil is still remembered for his time with the Chiefs — 17 years after spending his final coaching chapter here.
By the time Vermeil took the job with the Chiefs, he had retired from head coaching twice.
First in 1982, after seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. After leading them to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, and earning a Super Bowl appearance, Vermeil admitted he had burnt himself out.
“When it becomes obsessive and you can’t turn it off,” Vermeil told KCUR in May, “pretty quick you’re not … satisfying your own passion with the quality of work that you think you should be doing.”
Vermeil’s second retirement was in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams. Vermeil had led them to a Super Bowl championship.
By 2001, he was coaching again. This time in Kansas City.
It was Carl Peterson, Chiefs president and general manager at the time, who wooed Vermeil back to the NFL. The pair had a history dating back to the 1970s, at UCLA. They teamed up again to guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl after the 1980 season.
Vermeil, who named Peterson as his presenter at the Hall of Fame ceremonies this weekend, is among eight football figures to be inducted.
“We’re just very, very close,” Vermeil said. “(Peterson) enabled me to do more things for my own family, and the rest of my life.”
Connections to Kansas City
The deal that sent Vermeil to Kansas City happened in the log cabin-style home he still shares with his wife, Carol.
Peterson and former Chiefs executive Lynn Stiles had traveled to suburban Philadelphia to pitch Vermeil on the idea, but he remembered not even wanting to take the meeting.
“I told them not to come,” Vermeil said, “and I’m sure glad they did.”
Once the couple arrived, the Vermeils found there was a lot to like about Kansas City.
“It’s sort of an infectious place to live,” Vermeil said. “You just fall in love with it a little bit more every day. I know I did, I know Carol did.”
The Vermeils spent only five years in Kansas City, but have stayed connected with the area, and the friends they made here.
Including a bond they formed with the nonprofit Operation Breakthrough, a haven for children in poverty situations, located at 31st Street and Troost Avenue.
Jennifer Heinemann, the nonprofit’s director of stewardship and planned giving, recalled the excitement leading up to their first visit.“It was electric: ‘The Vermeils were coming!’” she said. “It was the most exciting thing that had happened here in I don’t know how long.”
As recently as last month, Carol Vermeil talked with Chris Waxter, a Kansas City computer specialist she first met at Operation Breakthrough about 20 years ago.
“She’s so funny,” said Waxter. “She remembers all the good times, of course.”
Waxter said it was Carol Vermeil who set him up with a person who taught him to build websites. Waxter was in high school at the time.
“My first website I ever built was the Kansas City Chiefs roster in 2001 and 2002 ... so I learned how to place pictures and where to put the color,” said Waxter, now 34. “From that time on I’ve been intrigued — always around technology.”
Waxter now works for an international company that makes automotive seats.
The rosters he built at Operation Breakthrough included other football Hall of Fame names, like tight end Tony Gonzalez and offensive linemen Will Shields and Willie Roaf. They were part of a team in 2003 that had Kansas City talking about Super Bowl potential. It was Vermeil’s best season with the franchise, and included a 9-0 start.
Former linebacker Shawn Barber signed with the Chiefs as a free agent that year, and was impressed with Vermeil.
“He was one of the most authentic leaders I’ve ever seen in the NFL,” said Barber, who has remained in Kansas City and works as vice president of business development for an insurance and financial services company.
But the season came to a crashing halt in the playoffs, when the Chiefs lost at home to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Vermeil called it one of the most disappointing moments of his coaching career.
“He wore his emotions on his sleeve,” said Barber. “He cared, and he didn’t care about the persona or the perception (of) being a caring coach.”
Vermeil led the Chiefs through 2005, though he never got them to the Super Bowl.
Still, for the players and fans who built bonds with him while he was here, Vermeil’s legacy in Kansas City goes well beyond the wins and losses.