Dick Vermeil was two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1982 when he walked away from the game at age 46 after seven years as a head coach. The next time Vermeil coached in the NFL he was 61 years old.
Vermeil thinks Jon Gruden could follow a similar path, telling Sirius XM Radio (h/t to Pro Football Talk) that if Gruden was anything like him, feelings of regret for walking away might kick in at some point.
Gruden, after all, was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2008 season at a similar age (45) to when Vermeil walked away the first time. Vermeil thinks Gruden's second act — like Vermeil's — could be even better than his first, too.
“No question, he’s a hell of a lot better coach than I am, and a lot smarter,” Vermeil said of Gruden. “I think he would be very successful. I hope he does come back, because I like him a lot.”
Gruden has been in demand by some NFL teams for years, and he has raised his star at ESPN as the Monday Night Football announcer and pre-draft analyst with his popular quarterback series. He turns 51 next month — a full 10 years younger than the age Vermeil was when he came back to coach the St. Louis Rams in 1997.
The first few years there were rough, but everything came together during the Rams' storyook 1999 season that ended in a dramatic Super Bowl victory over the Tennessee Titans. Vermeil walked away after that season, citing the need to spend more time with his family and turning the team over to Mike Martz.
Vermeil said he had a second dose of regret after making that decision.
“Poor decision ... I made a mistake,” Vermeil said. “My family wanted me home, and I was tired and I didn’t want to cut [several veterans on] the squad and go into free agency, and I thought at my age, to go out a champion was a great opportunity.”
Vermeil soon was back, coaching the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 after sitting out the 2000 season. He would stay there five seasons total and winning 44 of his 80 games, with an 0-1 postseason mark.
Will Gruden ever return? He and Bill Cowher, who left the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006, have kept the door open to a possible return at some point, even though Gruden has signed a long-term contract with ESPN and has insisted he enjoys his media duties with the network. Cowher, 57, lost his wife this summer and told ESPN's Adam Schefter after last season that he'd remain out of the game "for a few more years."
If Gruden or Cowher return to the league, it would be a big story — and likely not as unexpected as Vermeil's return after 15 years out of the game. We expect these two former Super Bowl champions to come back for one more crack at glory.
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