Trio joins football staff

Keith Farner

Lance Vermeil remembers 1987. He was in the seventh grade. But that’s about where the similarities began and ended with him and his 12-year old peers.

While his buddies were trading baseball cards, Vermeil was deciding his career path.

He recalls watching his dad, Al, as the strength and conditioning coach of the San Francisco 49ers during the team’s workouts in Rockland, Calif. Apparently, he liked what he saw.

Fast forward 15 years and Vermeil finds himself as Western’s new strength and conditioning coach, one of three new additions to the Hilltoppers’ staff.

The position was natural for Lance since his father is now in the same position with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and his uncle, Dick Vermeil, is the head coach of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, one of his uncle’s former players, Frank Lamaster, came to Western to look at the Toppers’ new turf and heard about the strength and conditioning opening on Jack Harbaugh’s staff. From there, the grapevine worked its magic and Vermeil had a job offer.

“I’m pretty prepared for it, lucky to have it and it’s a great opportunity,” Vermeil said. “In strength and conditioning, if you have football down, its like the king of all sports, you can go do anything.”

Harbaugh interviewed several candidates to replace Steve Gortmaker, who accepted a similar job with Kansas earlier this summer. In the end, Harbaugh decided Vermeil had the most knowledge and experience – and a good pedigree.

“First of all he’s got good bloodlines,” Harbaugh said. “Being a dad of guys who are in my profession, I understand you grow up in the home where you talk about strength and conditioning, you talk about different techniques, you talk about the different problems you have. And he’s aware of every type of situation that could develop, so he had a head start on some of the other guys.”

Vermeil joins T.J. Weist and Markell Rice on Harbaugh’s 2002 staff.

Weist will coach the running backs after Roscoe Echols left to be an administrative assistant and assistant football coach at Bowling Green High School.

Weist comes to Western from Indiana, where the entire coaching staff was replaced after last season. After looking at other Big 10 jobs, he became interested in the Western opening because he had known Harbaugh’s sons, John and Jim, for more than a decade.

“I really wanted to be involved with Coach Harbaugh because I know he has a quality program,” Weist said.

The move was also smooth for Weist because he coached along side Western defensive coordinator David Elson at Southern Illinois from 1994-1996.

But what really attracted Weist to Harbaugh was his knowledge of the offense Western is in the process of installing. He said Harbaugh has visited Indiana for the last five years to study the Hoosiers’ offense.

“Long before he was available to us we liked and studied Indiana’s offense a lot,” Harbaugh said. “And to get somebody that was so closely associated with the design of it and so closely associated with the implementation of it just seemed like a natural fit.”

“We learned as much from him as he learned from us,” Weist said.

And after three days of two-a-day practices, Weist said Western is a year ahead of IU in terms of developing the offense.

“We’ve got a strong running attack and now we need repetitions with the passing game,” Weist said.

Rice, a volunteer assistant, will help Elson coach the secondary. Rice was a defensive back with the Toppers for three years in the early 1990s.

While away from the Hill, Rice did everything from sell life insurance to sporting goods. But it was at a camp in 1999 that gave him the itch to get back in the game.

He helped out with a youth football camp in Gallatin, Tenn., then found himself coaching alongside a bunch of guys he used to play with.

He’s taking graduate classes for his teaching certificate. In the meantime, he’ll provide Elson with another set of eyes, watching the prized defense go to work.

“If you can teach a young kid how to play football, that’s what spills over into life,” Rice said.

Reach Keith Farner at [email protected]