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Philadelphians start year cheered by prospect of Vermeil's return

It was Page 1 news in Philadelphia on Christmas morning that a man bearing gifts might be arriving in town soon.

Santa Claus?

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No way. They've booed him in Philadelphia.

The excitement was about the possibility that Dick Vermeil might be ready to come home.

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When Vermeil was inducted into the Eagles' Honor Roll on Dec. 18, he got a warm welcome from the fans at Veterans Stadium.

After all, he is the only coach to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and they're passionate about the Eagles in Philadelphia.

On Christmas Eve, despite a six-game losing streak, the Eagles got a 35.2 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) for their final game against the Cincinnati Bengals. By contrast, the Washington Redskins got just a 19.1 rating in Washington for their finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

The thought of Vermeil returning makes Eagles fans think that happy days could be here again.

But before those fans get too excited, they have to realize it may never happen. The real question, though, is why he would consider returning in the first place.

It just shows you how strong the siren song is for coaches. Even after 12 years, it's hard to resist its call.

For Vermeil to come back, though, could be a mistake. He's the guy who invented coaching burnout, the intense round-the-clock worker who drove himself batty.

Vermeil's apologists insist it'd be different this time.

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"I think he'll come back, and this time I think he'll work things through very carefully," his former quarterback, Ron Jaworski, said last week. "You'll find he's changed a bit. He'll find ways to relax."

Sure.

Vermeil can't change his style. He is who he is. Once he got back into it, he would be intense.

He also would be walking away from a TV gig that is one of the great jobs in America -- a color commentator. He gets a six-figure salary for a bunch of 10-second sound bites that any knowledgeable fan watching in his living room could make.

And then there's the Jeff Lurie factor. Lurie is one of these new breed of owners who wants to run the team himself. When Lurie fired Rich Kotite, he said a new owner gets to evaluate the coach.

"I don't care if it's Vince Lombardi," he said.

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Can you imagine Lurie -- whose main credential is producing several movies that flopped -- evaluating Vince Lombardi? Did Lombardi win enough to suit Lurie? Working for Lurie isn't going to be a picnic.

There's also no guarantee that Vermeil II would be as successful as Vermeil I. A lot has changed in his 12-year absence.

Remember that Super Bowl that Vermeil took the Eagles to? His Eagles were blown out in Super Bowl XV, 27-10, by the Oakland Raiders. The opposing coach was Tom Flores, who was fired last week by the Seattle Seahawks.

So Vermeil has the choice of living happily ever after in the TV booth or taking all the aggravation that goes with coaching.

That means he'll probably go back to coaching. Giving it up is almost as hard as giving up smoking.

The choice

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Ann Landers likes to tell wives who are ready to dump their husbands to ask themselves: "Are you better off with him or without him?"

Denver Broncos coach Pat Bowlen should have thought of that question two years ago when he fired Dan Reeves as coach.

It's easy to understand why Bowlen did it. Living with Reeves is not easy. He acts like he's the owner. He wants to run the whole show.

But Reeves can coach. He took the New York Giants to a 9-7 record this season with a team that wasn't much better than the Redskins, who were 3-13.

Bowlen's first choice as Reeves' replacement was Wade Phillips, who was easy to get along with, but didn't win enough to suit Bowlen. Now he has to try to find another Reeves.

Meanwhile, Reeves is showing why Bowlen fired him.

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He has made various comments during the year complaining

that the Giants didn't do as good a job in free agency as the San Francisco 49ers (nobody else did, either) and that he doesn't have enough input.

Reeves forgets that when he was out of work two years ago, he applied for the Giants' job and said he'd have no trouble working for general manager George Young. That was then. This is now.

After the Giants ended their season last week, Reeves took up the theme again.

"I'd like to have more say-so as to where our money goes, as far as who we keep and we let go," he said. "Rather than just make a decision on who's a priority and who's not, but also to have more of a say on where that money is going to go and who we spend it on and who we're going to lose."

Young brushed all this off, as he has done all year. He knows Reeves can coach, so he'll put up with it.

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"All those things will be worked out internally like they always have been," Young said. "I think coaches should have input into the team like they always have. Arbitrary is not a word in my dictionary."

Coach-speak

When Dennis Erickson said last week that he's staying at the University of Miami, you might assume that means he's staying there.

Maybe he is. But NFL people aren't betting on it. Until he turns down the Seattle Seahawks' job after the Orange Bowl, they won't be convinced he's staying at Miami.

It was a good move for Erickson to say he's staying. He didn't want to be a distraction for his team, which is playing Nebraska tonight. But whether he means it remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Bill Walsh isn't winning any friends among his old bosses in San Francisco with reports that he recommended the Seahawks hire him too rn the show and 49ers assistant Mike Shanahan as coach.

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Carmen Policy, the 49ers' president, fired off a letter to commissioner Paul Tagliabue complaining about tampering.

"This is a serious matter," Policy said. "If a team is in any way supportive or promoting a third party commenting on hiring a coach, that team's as guilty as if they did it. I'm reporting the rumor to the league office."

Note the word "rumor." Neither Walsh nor the Seahawks said publicly that they're talking about Shanahan, though it was leaked to the media. There's not much the league can do about "rumors."

Policy's reaction just shows how hyper the 49ers are as they start their bid for the Super Bowl. They don't want any distractions. Even coach George Seifert complained, saying the report could "disrupt" the team. Walsh called his former assistant to smooth things over.

Shanahan, who's more likely to end up in Denver than Seattle, anyway, said, "We've got to focus as a team. We always tell our players to try not to listen to rumors, concentrate on your job. From a coaching standpoint, you look at it the same way."

Making the call

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After having a miserable season, game officials will be under pressure to improve in the playoffs. A big call blown there gets a lot of attention.

The officials ended the season on a down note when a bad call by referee Dale Hamer cost linebacker Ken Harvey of the Washington Redskins the sack title.

Harvey finished tied for second with John Randle of Minnesota at 13 1/2 . Kevin Greene of Pittsburgh won the title with 14.

Harvey had 14 1/2 after he sacked the Rams' Chris Miller in the third quarter Saturday and forced a fumble. But Hamer ruled Miller's arm was moving forward when Harvey hit him and called it an incomplete pass. Replays showed Miller's arm wasn't moving when Harvey blindsided him, and it should have been a sack and a forced fumble.

Back to the Bucs

Coach Sam Wyche is spending the New Year's weekend in the Bahamas with Steve Story, one of the trustees in charge of the sale of the Buccaneers. They're supposedly vacationing with their wives.

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But you can bet that Wyche is telling Story that if the trustees delay the sale a year and keep him as coach, he'll turn the team around.

Wyche will point out Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak near the end of the season, ignoring the fact that two of the victories were against the Redskins and another was against the Rams.

He'll also fail to point out that with a sellout crowd on hand for the finale -- the team sold its 74,301st and last ticket 70 minutes after kickoff -- they were drilled by the Green Bay Packers, 34-19. He'll also fail to point out he's the first coach in league history to lose 10 or more games four years in a row (he did it in his final year in Cincinnati in 1991).

But Wyche can be a good salesman, so it will be interesting to see if he's able to convince Story to delay the sale.

The downside for the trustees is that if they keep the team for another year, they'll probably lose money for the trust in 1995, which isn't what trustees are supposed to do.

The Jimmy Watch

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Jimmy Johnson keeps making as much news away from the game as most coaches do in the game.

Two weeks ago, it was his much ballyhooed announcement that he wasn't returning to coaching -- at least for the moment.

Last week, he showed up in Dallas with the HBO crew for their weekly "Inside the NFL" show.

The producers suggested that Johnson might want to go to the team's training complex. Johnson nixed that idea, but the Cowboys wanted to make sure he knew he wasn't welcome, anyway.

"At this particular time in the season, to have a little homecoming for Jimmy out here at Valley Ranch was probably inappropriate," owner Jerry Jones said.

But guard Nate Newton said a visit from Johnson "would have ben a spark for us."

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That's all coach Barry Switzer needs to hear. He already is getting flak in Dallas because the team lost two of its last three games.

Running back Emmitt Smith said he hopes Johnson will be rooting for Dallas in the playoffs.

"He probably wouldn't have been an objective journalist, but deep down in his heart, I know he's probably rooting for us. He better be, anyway," Smith said.

The grade

So, how did Buddy Ryan grade his first year as the coach of the Arizona Cardinals, though they finished 8-8 after he promised a winner.

"You know me; I always give myself an A-plus," said Ryan.

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Under Ryan, the offense tumbled from eighth in the league to 25th, scoring 91 fewer points. His defense allowed only two fewer points (267) than last year, and the Cardinals won just one more game.

Ryan then told three high-paid veterans -- quarterback Steve Beuerlein and wide receivers Gary Clark and Ricky Proehl -- they

would be exposed to the expansion draft.

Ryan didn't produce the promised winning season, but after much careful evaluation, he decided it wasn't his fault.


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