December 7, 2012

Lifestyles: US Lacrosse National Convention Speaker Dick Vermeil

by Paul Krome | | Twitter

The US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion, is the largest professional development event in the world for lacrosse coaches, officials and administrators, annually drawing upwards of 5,000 participants. The event returns to Philadelphia Jan. 11-13, 2013, and tickets are on sale here for just $105 through Jan. 2 (a savings of 30 percent vs. the walk-up price).

Dick Vermeil's cozy, wooden house among the hills of Chester County, Pa., oozes with the warmth of a ski lodge; an inviting respite from dreary weather and the winding, single-lane roads needed to get there.

In the basement, the man-cave of all man-caves, snapshots of a football coaching career that spanned five decades and reached the pinnacle twice in Super Bowls XV and XXXIV fight for space on the walls.

But to Vermeil, now 76 and an avid outdoorsman and wine connoisseur, the photos, magazine covers and trophies carry a more intangible significance.

"My rewards are all much greater than the things you see around here," he said. "These are symbols of what people can do working together for all the right reasons."

Vermeil transformed the Philadelphia Eagles from cellar dwellers to NFC champions in the late 1970s and early '80s, and he'll return to the City of Brotherly Love Jan. 11, 2013, as the keynote speaker of the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion. He spent some time with LM in advance of his return to Philly.

How did you help under-the-radar players like Vince Papale, Herm Edwards, Kurt Warner and Dante Hall maximize their talents?
I always felt the only way you could help a player maximize his talent, whether he was a first-round pick or a free agent, was to stay on the field for a long time and give them all the opportunities. We felt we weren't demanding, but that we were investing and helping that player be the best he could be, from the third-stringer on. You never know when your third-stringer is going to be your first-stringer.

You displayed passion and emotion in postgame press conferences. How did that help you connect with your players?
As a coach, the No. 1 thing you have to be is yourself. I'm an emotional guy and a very intense guy. You talk about inspiration — as much as anybody, my players inspired me. I felt a real deep obligation to help them be the best they could possibly be. In so doing, you get really close to them and care about them. When it goes real well, you're excited and emotional about it. When it goes real bad, you're disappointed and emotional about it. That's my profile. And I used to embarrass myself from time to time, but pretty quickly I said, "You know, that's me. And I'm not going to worry about that anymore."

Any tips for coaches at the youth or high school level to recognize potential in young people?
Remember that you are coaching a person, then a game. [Players] are playing because they love the game. Help them be the best player they can be by recognizing that they don't have to be there. Build an atmosphere in which they really enjoy competing.

The lacrosse community prides itself on relationships. Dave Klemic, one of your former players, said that's important to you as well. Why?
To be a good coach, the people you are coaching have to know you care. Starting all the way back when I was coaching high school, my wife and I have probably fed 90 percent of all the players we've ever coached and all the coaches we've ever worked with at our house. We really enjoyed it, because it gave us an opportunity to sit around the dinner table and talk with the kids about things you wouldn't talk about on a football field, or in a meeting room, or in my office. You hear things that help you gain insight into that person.

Between the Eagles and the Rams, you were a sportscaster for 14 years. Why step away from coaching?
I made the mistake, during my career with the Eagles, of allowing a passion to become an obsession. I just couldn't turn it off. I would lose a game on Sunday, and be thinking all week long what I should've done to win last Sunday's game, but yet I have another game to prepare for coming up this Sunday. It became a vicious circle for me. The only way I could prevent myself from snowballing downhill was to take a break.

How did you get involved in the wine industry?
I was born and raised in Calistoga, the north end of Napa Valley. Wine country. My great-grandfather made all the Vermeil wines himself, a Frenchman. As young boys, my brother and I would help him some — change the barrels. I didn't know what I was doing but I didn't have to know. So I developed an interest. In 1999, we started making about 150 cases of wine for fun, no money involved, called Jean Louis Vermeil Cabernet. It was my great-grandfather's name and my dad's name. I wanted to put their names on a bottle of wine because they had so much passion for wine and the understanding of the values of wine, and how it should be used with the meal. When I got out of coaching, in 2008 we turned it into a full-fledged business. Now we have Vermeil Wines.

You've been to several of your grandsons' lacrosse games. What do you think?
I'm a real big fan of lacrosse, for a lot of reasons. There's not a lot of equipment involved. You need a field, and it doesn't even have to be fancy. It's a high-effort game. You have to work. You have to be in condition. I think you've got to be careful it becomes too physical. That eliminates some of the finesse, and then the bullies win. I felt, from time to time, I saw some teams stretching the rules and getting away with it. I don't think that's good for lacrosse. I'm not a lacrosse coach, but it's a finesse game and a physical game. I don't think it's a combat game. But I'm very impressed with the game and the coaches.

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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