January 11, 2013

Vermeil Delivers Fitting Address for USL Convention

by Paul Krome | LaxMagazine.com | Convention Live Blog

Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil delivered the keynote address Friday night at the 2013 US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

PHILADELPHIA — Dick Vermeil built one of the most successful NFL coaching careers ever by developing relationships with his players that focused more on who they were as people. That made him a natural selection to deliver the keynote address at the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion, Friday night, given the lacrosse community's affinity for highlighting the long-lasting relationships that come with participation in the sport.

But the two-time Super Bowl coach, who reached the summit of football coaching with the St. Louis Rams, 19 years after leading the Philadelphia Eagles to an NFC championship, discovered his fundamental tenet from a surprising source while beginning his career as an assistant at Del Mar (Calif.) High School.

"I also coached the swim team, and a lot of that was one-on-one work. And I told them, 'If you work harder, you will always get better,'" Vermeil said before taking the stage in the Pennsylvania Convention Center ballroom. "'You may never get good enough, but if you work harder you will get better.'"

Vermeil's impact on his players remains evident even today at age 76, seven years after he retired from the Kansas City Chiefs, as he fielded text messages from current Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez saying he's "putting everything into" preparing for Sunday's NFC playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Or as his grandfatherly face lit up upon a surprise visit from former Chief Dave Klemic, who said if coaches "invest in people the way Coach does, they will go to war for you."

"I'm all fired up now. They're not going to be able to pull me off the stage," Vermeil joked, and with that, he raised the curtain on US Lacrosse's signature event that's focused on developing coaches and officials so they can, in turn, develop young people.

Vermeil shared his principles of leadership honed over a 50-year career that now includes his position as an executive in the wine industry, leading a team that bottles and sells Vermeil Wines, a long-time family tradition now enjoyed by the public.

"I always told people I don't coach football, I coach people who play football," he said. "You don't coach lacrosse, you coach people who play lacrosse."

Vermeil espoused the importance of sincerity, trust, energy and setting a good example during his address.

"Coach Vermeil's awesome. He really reinforced a lot of what we do, which feels good," said Fred Donahoe, a five-time convention attendee entering his sixth season as the boys' varsity head coach at North Stafford (Va.) High School. "His message about having passion for the kids and teaching the kids that you care about them first, and then the rest of it comes — that's the key there. It's awesome that that type of message was being shared with these other coaches in lacrosse."

Vermeil's address highlighted an opening day that included presentations on indoor turf fields from Georgetown men's coach Kevin Warne, National Hall of Fame umpire Jen O'Donnell, and United States Olympic Committee staffer Chris Snyder, some 150 exhibitors populating the sport's largest exposition hall, and the US Lacrosse Sports Medicine Symposium. The symposium kicked off the day and featured many speakers on the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee, delving into head injuries, mechanisms of lacrosse injuries and nutrition.

The convention also serves as a gathering point for the lacrosse community, strengthening relationships built over the years. The combination of education and networking was not lost among attendees.

"The culture of lacrosse is coming on strong," Donahoe said. "We've seen it in our area where because of the way lacrosse is educating its coaches, players are coming to lacrosse from other sports where maybe they're not getting the same amount of respect or having the same amount of fun. A lot of it has to do with what US Lacrosse has done as far as educating people that come into the game. That's what this convention is all about."

And that's why Vermeil — nowadays as comfortable talking stacking firewood or restoring 1930s-era cars as he is the NFL — delivered a keynote that was right on.

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