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NFL champion coach Dick Vermeil gives Riverside students life advice
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Former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil visits the Riverside Military Academy campus Tuesday, April 10, 2018, to speak with students as part of the Norman P. Blake Family Distinguished Speaker Series. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Common sense is not always common practice,” said Dick Vermeil, former NFL coach and Super Bowl champion, during a speech to hundreds of students at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville on Tuesday, April 10.

Those words rang just as true for school President William J. Gallagher as they did more than half a lifetime ago.

“That’s a message coach Vermeil left with us 42 years ago,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher was just a junior in high school in Philadelphia in 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial, when he was honored by the Union League and invited to hear Vermeil, then the head football coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, speak in person.

“The speech he gave that night was so motivational and so inspirational it gave all of us the sense that as a high school student you have your whole life in front of you and it depends on how hard you want it whether you are going to get it or not after graduation,” Gallagher said.

When he walked home that night, Gallagher said he felt like he could scale a skyscraper with Vermeil’s words still fresh on his mind.

It’s perhaps why Gallagher thinks of football as the closest sport to teaching the military mindset, which is about “defending, attacking, understanding your enemy and, more importantly, understanding yourself.”

Just a few months ago, Gallagher reached out to Vermeil to thank him for his words of inspiration all those years ago. The two began a correspondence, and Vermeil said he would be honored to speak at Riverside.

The military academy has built a reputation, among other things, as a destination for renowned visitors through its biweekly Norman P. Blake Family Distinguished Speaker Series.

In recent months, there have been a Holocaust survivor and Miss America winner, political officeholders and famous musicians on campus to speak to students about the importance of cultivating integrity and leadership.

For Vermeil, his first tenet in life, he said, whether in relationships or business, is that “you have to care.”

Moving your commitment from the head to the heart is the beginning of success for Vermeil, and it allows leaders to nurture their credibility and attain authenticity among those they lead.

“I’d try to be what I wanted my people to be,” Vermeil said about his daily workplace habits. “It’s infectious.”

Vermeil also insisted that it’s important for leaders to create an atmosphere people enjoy working, living and competing in so that they can be prepared for any and every challenge.

“They never hire you to take over a winning team,” Vermeil said.

Indeed.

With the Eagles, Vermeil turned a rudderless franchise into a team that played in the Super Bowl in January 1981.

Later, he took the St. Louis Rams from the basement of the league to Super Bowl champions in January 2000.

“Seldom do you start out winning,” Vermeil said. “So never discuss losing in permanent terms … enthusiasm is an emotional muscle.”

Hard work fatigue and a little pain are also some of the prices of success, Vermeil said, so “surround yourself with good people … hold everyone responsible … including yourself.”

Vermeil said building relationships in life and work is what it all boils down to anyhow.  

“That’s the phase I enjoy the most,” he added.

But developing relationships built on trust is difficult, a constant challenge in personal and professional life, Vermeil said.

“Trust is a feeling,” he added. “It’s another unbelievable emotional muscle.”

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Riverside Military Academy cadets attend the Tuesday, April 10, 2018, speech by former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil inside the school's Carlos and Sandra Cervantes Theatre for the Arts. The event was part of the school's Norman P. Blake Family Distinguished Speaker Series. - photo by Scott Rogers
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