Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – Former Chiefs, Eagles and Rams head coach Dick Vermeil joined Nick Wright and John Lopez on In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 on Friday and shed some light on his relationship with former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips.
Phillips, who was drafted 6th overall in 1996, was found dead in a jail cell this past week, apparently of self-induced causes. Coach Vermiel, who coached Phillips in 1997 with the Rams, told In The Loop he wasn’t very shocked at the news.
“I was not totally surprised,” Vermeil said. “I was hurt a little bit and I felt very bad about it. Lawrence was a troubled kid, no question about it. When I got to St. Louis he was in jail. When he was paroled, I went and picked him up. I’m going to rejuvenate this kid.”
Phillips had a lot of issues in both college and the NFL.
“I was around him a lot,” Coach said, “maybe five, six months and I liked him. There were some real good qualities in this guy, but obviously he had some deep-rooted emotional problems that prevented him from taking advantage of all his different talents.”
Vermiel ended up cutting Phillips midway through the 1997 season. At a press conference that day a tearful Vermeil announced the roster move. Coach looks back and said that moment was a combination of feeling badly for Phillips, the wasted talent and feeling he could have done more to help the young kid.
“It was a combination of everything,” Vermiel said. “I had been out of coaching for 14-years. Which means I had been away from dealing with young men with different kinds of problems.
“I would have done some things differently with him had I known about the cumulation of problems, prior to my firing him in the middle of the season. So I feel bad…I think I could have done a better job for the guy. Would I have helped him, I don’t know.
“I do know this. The day that I fired him, I brought him in there. Sat him in my office, he’s sitting there and I start talking to him and big tears start rolling down his cheeks.
“I said, ‘Now Lawerence what would you do if you were the head coach of the St. Louis Rams?’ And he looked me right in the eye all choked up emotionally and he said, ‘Coach I would fire me.’
“And I said, ‘You really leave me no choice and I’m very very sorry.’ I felt bad because I felt I let him down a little bit.”
Coach Vermiel knows there was good in Phillips. He told a story about before the 1997 season that shed a little light on what kind of childhood Phillips grew up with.
“My wife and I took him out for his birthday prior to the season starting. And I had a cake made for him. We were at Morton’s in St. Louis. And they brought the cake out and he looked at the cake and he said, ‘You know coach, I’ve never had a birthday cake.'”
Listen to the whole interview with Coach Vermeil: