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IT'S THE IDEAL TIME FOR EDGY VERMEIL TO ROLL THE CREDITS

When they film "The Dick Vermeil Story" the title role should go to Jack Lemmon.

Less than 12 hours after the triumph of his football career, the St. Louis Rams' stirring 23-16 victory over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV, Vermeil was nitpicking his way through not "what could have been" but "what could have been done better."

"I was disappointed that we didn't get on top of them right away with the opportunities we had," said the man whose personal victory was compensation for his disappointment in losing Super Bowl XV. "I think we would have had an easier time.

"I was troubled by our failures in the red zone. We dropped a field-goal snap. I was hoping we could hold the early lead better than we did."

Then, of course, there are Vermeil's concerns about next season, which surfaced before the books were closed on this one.

"I'm going to have to be a lot tougher in training camp next summer," said the man for whom the advice "enjoy the moment!" is a foreign concept. "We have been developing more and more into a finesse team, which is why I think we had so much trouble with Tennessee's very physical front seven."

A tougher grind next summer? It's Feb. 1. We still have to celebrate Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, St. Paddy's, Easter, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July before we get to training camp. It's about 165 days away, but before Vermeil's head finally rested on his pillow deep into Monday morning he was thinking about how much tougher he's got to get.

Jack Lemmon has made a living portraying that kind of angst.

Can't you see Vermeil as the poor schlump of whom his colleagues take advantage in Lemmon's "The Apartment?"

Wouldn't he be the perfect inspiration for the cornered garment manufacturer eyeball-to-eyeball with bankruptcy in "Save the Tiger?"

When someone finally asked Vermeil if he actually stole away and sat back, reflecting and appreciating what happened to him and his team in the Georgia Dome Sunday night, he admitted that "My wife and I were alone in the hotel room several hours after the game and we turned on the TV and watched the highlights for the first time."

But then he added "I also thought about not having to worry about getting fired, which had been on my mind for the previous two years."

That was something which would have gone through the mind of Lemmon's aged, on-the-brink-of-dismissal real estate salesman tormented by Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

While Vermeil plans to hold his team to his usual high standards when they finally do put on pads once again, it's clear that he doesn't fully realize that this is the NFL of the new millennium.

"The biggest change I saw in the league between my retirement and my return (a 14-year gap between 1983 and 1997) was the influence of agents," complains Vermeil. "They don't pay attention to just what we tell them anymore. They're hearing different from the agents and it isn't always the truth."

Just agents? Vermeil's naivete is showing.

There are more changes in his two coaching eras than just agents. They include full-blown free agency, the salary cap, paying million-dollar bonuses to get players to work out during the offseason, owners demanding to win yesterday and the muscle now flexed by the Players Association.

Then there is the fact that coaching NFL football is now a 365-day-a-year occupation. He'll go from the Super Bowl to preparation to inspecting college talent in the annual Indianapolis meat market, to assessing free agents in that market and re-signing his own, to the college draft, to the mini-camps to actual training camp.

What Vermeil should do is come to grips with the fact that it doesn't get any better than it got for him Sunday night in Atlanta and it isn't likely to get that way again. Now would be the ideal time for the 63-year-old coach to retire.

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