Dick Vermeil, normally a chesty little guy, was the rare coach today, facing up to his journalistic second guessers and acknowledging he made a wrong decision before millions of viewers Monday night.
With set chin and squared shoulders, he said at his news conference, "If I had it to do all over again, I'd have taken the field goal." He was referring to a fourth-and-one gamble for a first down from the Atlanta Falcon's seven-yard line with his Philadelphia Eagles leading, 10-7, in the third quarter.
Strong-legged placekicker Tony Franklin had kicked a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter, but Vermeil passed up what would have been a 24-yard attempt in the third period for a plunge by a new running back in the organization, Leroy Harris, the former Miami Dolphin.
Harris was stopped without gain and instead of going down to the wire trailing, 14-13, the Eagles fell behind by what would turn out to be the final score, 14-10. Franklin, who kicks bare-footed, could not help them then. He finished the game with a cowboy boot on his right foot.
"Hell, Tony can kick a 60-yard field gaol," Vermeil remarked ruefully.
Near the end, quarterback Ron Jaworski had no choice but to try to score a touchdown. With the Atlanta rush men teeing off on him, and the Falcon prevent pass defense deeply deployed, the Eagles saw their last hope vanish when Jaworski cocked his rifle and let go a desperation shot, to 6-foot-8 wide receiver Harold Carmichael, that failed.
The coach also said: "I was mad at myself all night for calling that end-around run by Harold (Carmichael). But after seeing the film, it could have been a big play (at the Atlanta 16-yard line, three plays before the gamble). These are the things we want to do.
"I'm changing my thinking. We'd like to grow offensively. This was our first game that we used multiple formations. We were in formations that, for a long time, the Falcons didn't know what the hell we were doing."
One critic wrote that the crowd at Veterans Stadium shouted, on the fourth-and-one occasion, "Go-go-go. Vermeil went-went-went, and it was dumb-dumb-dumb."
Attending Vermeil's news conference was scout Joe Kuharich, who once said when he was a head coach, "You listen to the people in the stands and you'll be up there with them."
Vermeil related what led up to his decision: "I didn't want to sit on a 10-7 lead. You like to belive you can score more than 14 points. I was disappointed but I don't think the world came to an end. We need a better job of coaching and playing. The multiformations will help us grow as the season goes on. This is different than what my basic philosophy has been.
"Some ways, the new formations hurt; we were doing a lot of thinking instead of hitting. We were fifth in the league in rushing last year.
"We changed to help our passing. I'm not worried about my overall program; that's established. I'm worried about my coaching improving."
Vermeil's contract recently was extended to seven years. Before Monday's loss, the fans responded favorably to the Eagles, buying a record 64,035 season tickets.
The budding metamorphosis of Vermeil into a gambling, passing coach is traceable to the hiring of 67-year-old Sid Gillman, who is back on the job after undergoing triple heart bypass surgery in June.
Vermeil wanted Gillman because of his "offensive credits" as a head coach for 18 years. Gillman's assignment is "research and quality control." He goes to practice and talks to the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and sits in on meetings about game plans.
After Jaworski beat the New York Giants with a 23-point second period, 23-17, the quarterback said of the redesigned attack, which features receivers hooking back for passes instead of the steady use of slanting and crossing patterns: "I have to give Sid Gillman a lot of credit.
"More than just giving his concept of offense to the players, I think he's given it to Coach Vermeil. I think Coach Vermeil, with the addition of Gillman to his staff, realizes that we can get the big plays out of the passing game."