It’s been mentioned here and in other stories, that football and sports in general have connections to the wine industry. Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, golf great Greg Norman and racing champs Mario Andretti and Jeff Gordon are a few of the many who have entered the world of grape-growing and winemaking.
The 78 year old Dick Vermeil might not be at the top of the mind when it comes to notoriety, but the man was a coaching great in the world of football for almost 50 years, along the way rebuilding programs and winning including a Super Bowl for the St. Louis Rams. He coached with emotion and vigor, taking poor teams and bringing them to prominence.
Born in Calistoga, California, in the upper reaches of Napa Valley, though wine was prominent in his life, football would be Vermeil’s biggest passion. His first significant triumph was short but successful two-year stint in Westwood as the head coach for the UCLA Bruins. Vermeil took the Bruins to the Rose Bowl where they would win for only the second time in school history defeating an undefeated and #1 ranked Ohio State. UCLA finished ranked fifth in the country for the 1975 college football season.
He made the jump in 1976 to the professional ranks as a head coach for the hapless Philadelphia Eagles who hadn’t had a winning record for a decade. Vermeil’s team struggled for a couple years before finally becoming a playoff club four straight seasons including a Super Bowl appearance in 1980 where they lost to the Oakland Raiders. The 1982 season was a strike year, which helped to drive the impassioned coach into an early retirement.
After 15 years as a television commentator, Vermeil found his way back into a head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams who like the Eagles, had floundered for nearly a decade without a winning season. His third year with the Rams brought a Super Bowl Championship (with an exciting win over the Tennessee Titans). He retired a second time, only to join the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 and coach them to a 44-36 record over five seasons. This time Dick Vermeil retired permanently from football and indulge in his second passion, wine.
Although he has homes in Pennsylvania and Missouri, Vermeil had always loved wine over the years, being drawn into the industry for 15 years now. His family heritage in wine goes back to a pair of great grandfathers from a century ago. Continuing the legacy based in Calistoga, Vermeil Wines has been a serious endeavor for the famed head coach with several friends and family involved in the enterprise. His partners are Paul Smith, MarySue Frediani, Jim Frediani, Jeanne Frediani and his wife Carol Vermeil. They opened a tasting room the year before last in Napa and produce top-rated wines. Some of them are pricey, but that is the result of success for the former football coaches passionate effort.
As is usual for the always excited head coach and to that end, winning with enthusiastic zeal is Dick Vermeil’s formula. As he is quoted as saying:
“If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”
Additional source: Dick Vermeil: Whistle in His Mouth, Heart on His Sleeve
Daryle W. Hier