On May 6th, 1994, a year after failing to buy his hometown Patriots, Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles from Norman Braman. At head coach he inherited Rich Kotite, coming off an 8-8 season. It was too close to the new season to fire him and start over, so Lurie reluctantly kept him on board. The Eagles surprisingly started the next year 7-2 under Kotite. Nonetheless, Lurie announced after the hot start that he would not be renewing Kotite’s contract, and Kotite made it clear that he was going to start looking for a new job. All momentum the team had built up was lost, as they dropped their next 7 games, and Kotite quickly got the ax. Lurie then turned his attention to a former Eagle coach in the hopes of returning the team to glory…Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil had quit coaching following the 1982 season, citing burnout. For the next 12 years he was an analyst on television. But like most coaches, he had the bug, and he almost took an offer from the Falcons in 1986 (When things fell through with Vermeil, the Falcons took former Eagle coach Marion Campbell instead).
Vermeil met with Lurie a few days before the Eagles last regular season game of 1994. By January 13th of 1995, it looked like a deal was imminent, according to the Daily News.
After weeks of anticipation, questions, delay, no comments, media speculation and a Monday breakdown at the negotiating table, a source close to the negotiations told the Daily News yesterday that, barring unforeseen complications, an agreement is “not too far away…These things just take time, and I’m confident that it will eventually happen, but at its own pace. No one is trying to force anything.”
Two days later, things completely broke down. Apparently Lurie got nervous about the fact he was hiring a guy who hadn’t coached since 1982, and who wanted to not only be coach but GM. “Understand this was a risky offer,” Lurie told the Reading Eagle after negotiations broke down, “Because it was an offer to someone who hadn’t coached in 12 years, but yet someone I had great hope and respect for.”
Lurie continues, “He’s an intense competitive guy, and I think he was bitter that we were unwilling to really meet his requirements. I just don’t think that would have been responsible for this football team to put us in the situation where we just didn’t know how well Dick would do.”
Vermeil had a different take on why things broke down. “In nine hours of meetings-three, three-hour meetings, every time I mentioned football things, he said, ‘I’d like to be collaborated with, but the final decision will be yours’. And then when it (the contract) became written, it just wasn’t that way.”
And so the coaching search continued. Later that same week, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported, “Mike Shanahan appears to be the man at the top of Lurie’s head coaching wish list now that Dick Vermeil has been erased from the picture.”
But on January 31st, 1995, Shanahan was hired by the Broncos. Eagle fans were getting restless. Lurie was flying from town to town, interviewing seemingly every coach in the country. But at this point it was down to three men: Gary Stevens, offensive coordinator for the Dolphins; Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator for the Vikings (right); and Ray Rhodes, defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Sal Pal reported that Stevens appeared to be the frontrunner.
Lurie met with them all in Miami. He had a meeting with Dungy for 6 hours. It went extremely well, but he was still a longshot. Lurie and Stevens met on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 1st, and it seemed like things were set in stone. On February 2nd, Kevin Mulligan of the Daily News reported that “sometime today – barring breakdowns in the contract-writing process – Stevens is expected to have a new title: Philadelphia Eagles head coach.”
But as Mulligan was going to press at around midnight, Lurie was having a late-night meeting with Rhodes that lasted until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. After the meeting, he made his decision. Ray Rhodes would be his guy. He spoke with Rhodes’s agent on Wednesday and started hammering out a deal. By Wednesday afternoon, Ray Rhodes was the Eagles new head coach, signing a 5-year, $5 million salary. He would last 4 years in Philly, going 29-34-1. After a great start, going 10-6 and winning Coach of the Year, things went downhill rapidly, and he was fired after a disastrous 3-13 season in 1998. He is currently a defensive assistant for the Browns.
Gary Stevens would never become an NFL head coach, remaining Dolphins Offensive Coordinator until he was fired in 1998. He never coached in any capacity in the NFL again. Mike Shanahan was a long shot for the Birds, as most people figured he would take the Broncos job. He did, and led them to two Super Bowl wins. Dungy would remain Vikings coordinator for one more year before he was hired to be head coach of the Buccaneers, and after turning that franchise around, he later won a Super Bowl with the Colts. And Dick Vermeil would return to coaching with the Rams in 1997, and led them to a Super Bowl victory in his third season as coach. Pretty remarkable that Lurie interviewed three guys who would go on to win Super Bowls, and didn’t hire any of them.