Jack Pardee and the Redskins

Jack Pardee died this week. For Redskins fans in their 30s and 40s, Pardee is perhaps the least known head coach the team has employed in their lifetimes.

His three years came between George Allen’s seven-year run, and just before Joe Gibbs’s 12-year tenure. Allen and Gibbs were playoff regulars; Pardee was not. Neither was he the disaster of many of the post-Gibbs coaches, from Petitbon to Spurrier to Zorn. His firing, in fact, was highly controversial, and lamented by many players, media members and fans.

Anyhow, because this seemed like the thing to do, here are excerpts of some of the columns from when Pardee was hired, and then fired, as the Redskins boss. It’s easy to imagine people being overjoyed by the onset of the Gibbs Era. But that wasn’t a given in January of 1981, making the reaction to Pardee’s dismissal sort of fascinating.

Ken Denlinger, January 25 1978, “Worth The Wait.”

For Redskins watchers today, the major question is not why Jack Pardee was offered the job as head coach, but why he took it. There may be more competitive men in sports than Pardee, men with more zest for a challenge and all the obvious risks, but none come quickly to mind.

“I’m lucky to be alive because of him,” said his former coach at Texas A&M, Bear Bryant, who was chuckling as he spoke over the phone yesterday. “This was in his senior year, against Baylor, and he was hurt. I wasn’t going to play him, but he didn’t know it.

“I didn’t start him, of course, and the game developed into a real blood-letter, one of the toughest games I’ve ever seen. Well, he was near me on the sideline, my eyes big as silver dollars, and every time I’d turn around he’d almost be pawing the ground.

“It got so I was afraid he was going to whip me, right there on the spot, so I put him in and he played the rest of the game. And we finally won.”

Maryland’s coach, Jerry Claiborne, was a young assistant at A&M in the early ’50s when he first noticed the Pardee zeal.

“The assistants played basketball against some of the players when we first arrived,” Claiborne said, “and Jack was a freshman, already there when we came with Coach Bryant. Some of us assistants roughed ‘em up pretty good, and I remember giving Jack a good lick once, and then not going anywhere near the basket again.

“After about 10 or 15 minutes, Jack said: ‘Hey coach, hwo come you don’t drive for the basket?’ I said ‘I’m not stupid.’ He’s a heck of a competitor, a real fine person, and he knows what it takes to be a winner.”

 

Staff Editorial, January 6 1981, “The Departure of Jack Pardee”

Jack Pardee brought more to Washington when he returned three years ago than just a reputation as a hard-nosed football player and an inspiring coach. He brought a sense of humanity and humility to an athletic organization that had previously possessed little of either. In the brutal business of professional football, where winning all too often is the only thing that counts, Mr. Pardee stands tall as a man who understands that winning was not everything.

Our own judgment of Mr. Pardee’s performance as coach of the Redskins is not nearly so harsh as that of the team’s owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who fired Mr. Pardee yesterday. It was hardly Mr. Pardee’s fault that the team’s best running back played not a minute last fall, that its ace place kicker (and the league’s best) suddenly couldn’t kick straight, and that during a key stretch of the season almost every important play, every penalty and every bounce of the ball went against the redskins.

Perhaps we, like many other Redskins fans, have looked at Mr. Pardee through burgundy-colored glassses and Mr. Cooke has a more accurate view. But Mr. Pardee gave this community things his predecessor did not — candor, understanding and a sense that there are more important matters than those settled during Sunday afternoons at RFK Stadium.

In looking for a new coach, Mr. Cooke would do well to keep in mind some of Mr. Pardee’s attributes. The head coach of the Redskins has a special responsibility in this community. Whoever he is, he is an example, even an idol, to thousands of youngsters. George Allen showed those kids what it is to be a winner. Jack Pardee showed them what it is to be a dignified human being.

 

Dave Kindred, January 6 1981, “Cooke Wants Change, Not the Old Failures.”

When Jack Pardee would not bend, Jack Kent Cooke had no choice. As decent and honorable a man as ever coached in pro football, Pardee is a wonderful defensive technician who twice was the NFL’s coach of the year. He will land on his feet, as do all good men with a strong sense of what they are about. Sadly, Pardee’s stretch was also his weakness.

He has an unalterable belief in his way of playing the game. A survivor of the East Texas plains, a survivor of cancer, a survivor of the World Football League, Pardee has reason to believe in himself. He believed, as his old coach and boss George Allen taught him, that you win football games by not losing. Play the veterans who make no mistakes. Be mean defensively. On offense, take the low-risk road.

Sustained by these beliefs for so long, Pardee was not going to give them up at the suggestion of Cooke, the owner, or of Bobby Beathard, the general manager. As long ago as September, when the Redskins had not yet shown the full measure of their problems, Cooke suggested to Pardee that he use more young players. With an average of nearly five years work per man, the Redskins are the oldest team in the NFL.

Better to lose, 60-0, and build a future, Cooke said, than to lose, 17-7, with old men. If we keep losing with old men, the owner said, this franchise may not be competitive again for a decade.

Ken Denlinger, January 6 1981, “So Last Year’s Genius Has Become a Loser?”

Cooke’s hook finally removed Jack Pardee from the Redskins’ stage yesterday. By unpopular demand, the team’s majority owner fired a very good football coach and let us know he was taking firm command of his possession. Whether this came after careful deliberation or was carefully timed to avoid his being cast as some sporting Grinch, owner Jack Kent Cooke did what he seemed anxious to do for two months.

Most coaches are fired by the fans as much as by their won-and-loss record — and after at least showing a consistent tendency toward incompetence. Few beyond Cooke and General Manager Bobby Beathard were outraged by Pardee’s performance. Nobody was singing “Goodbye, Jack” in RFK Stadium this season, and Redskin fans hardly are the most tolerant.

Pardee surely has joined a highly unusual, if not unique, class of coaches: those dismissed a year after being judged the best in their profession. In Cooke’s estimation, Pardee went from genius to jerk as quickly as that is possible in the NFL.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · April 2, 2013