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Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
This past Tuesday, members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee nominated 15-year National Football League head coach Dick Vermeil as the Coach Finalist for the Class of 2022.
Vermeil won 120 regular-season games during his career and led both the Philadelphia Eagles (1980) and St. Louis Rams (1999) to Super Bowl appearances. It was his “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams team that won the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy with a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
If elected, Vermeil would become the 28th coach in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He would join a list that includes many of his contemporaries. One name Vermeil has been linked to for many years is Marv Levy.
Levy has been a strong supporter of Vermeil’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame for quite some time.
“Dick and I were ardent believers in the importance of the kicking game,” Levy said. "I was greatly impressed, and I still am, with his coaching abilities, with his love for the game, with his high character qualities.”
While they never coached together, their coaching career followed similar paths. Levy and Vermeil were the first two special teams coaches in NFL history. Vermeil was hired by George Allen in April 1969 to handle those duties for the Los Angeles Rams. One month later, Jerry Williams hired Levy to coach the kicking game for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Following one season with the Rams, Vermeil left to join UCLA’s staff as offensive coordinator. Levy replaced Vermeil in ’70 on the Rams’ staff and eventually followed Allen to Washington in 1971 to coach his special teams there.
Vermeil then returned to the Rams in 1971 under Tommy Prothro as a quarterbacks coach. When Chuck Knox took over in Los Angeles in 1973, Vermeil assumed the role of offensive backs/special teams coach before accepting the head coaching position at UCLA in 1974. Following two years with the Bruins, Vermeil was back in the NFL as head coach of the Eagles.
Levy moved on from the NFL as well and became head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League for five seasons (1973-77) before returning to the NFL in 1978 as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Vermeil guided Philadelphia to four playoff appearances in seven seasons, including an NFC championship in 1980. He retired after the 1982 season, however, citing occupational fatigue.
After five seasons with the Chiefs (1978-82), Levy took a few years off as well.
He re-entered the coaching ranks in the United States Football League in 1985 for his hometown Chicago Blitz before returning to the NFL as head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 1986. It took Levy only two years to lead the Bills to the AFC Championship Game. Under his direction, the team won the AFC Eastern Division six times and made the playoffs eight times.
With his high-powered “no-huddle” offense, Levy went on to set a new standard for NFL coaches as he led his team to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowl appearances (1990-93). He became the most successful coach in Bills history with a 112-70 regular-season record and was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1988 and AFC Coach of the Year in 1988, 1993 and 1995.
Levy retired from coaching after the 1997 season at the age of 72. It was Levy’s last season in which, following a 14-year hiatus, Vermeil made his triumphant return to the NFL as head coach of the Rams at the age of 61. In three seasons (1997-99), he reshaped St. Louis into a Super Bowl championship team. Vermeil then finished his incredible career with five seasons (2001-05) coaching the Kansas City Chiefs.
Just like Levy, it was Vermeil’s offenses that made opponents pay attention. Over the course of the last six seasons he coached, Vermeil’s offenses ranked in the Top 10 in yards six times and Top 10 in points scored five times. He retired for good following the 2005 season at the age of 69.
These two men not only had remarkable careers, but they also changed the game forever. Because of their success, and the way they approached the game, Levy and Vermeil opened the door for numerous special teams coaches to become head coaches – individuals like Joe Judge, John Harbaugh, Romeo Crennell, Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher and Mike Ditka, to name only a few.
Not bad for a couple of kicking game coaches.