He also played hard in contract negotiations, and when he was unhappy with the way talks were going in the summer of 1980, he upped and went home. "It's a very simple situation," Riggins told The Washington Post in a 1980 interview from his house in Lawrence, Kansas. "Either we'll get together and work this out and I'll play, or we won't work it out and I won't play."
The answer was B: They didn't work it out and Riggins didn't play, dealing a blow to Pardee's defense-oriented strategy. That strategy required an offense that could run the ball, control the clock and avoid mistakes. Although the Redskins had missed the playoffs in 1979, Riggins had rushed for 1,153 yards. In 1980, with him gone, the running game broke down.
As the team's performance worsened that year, so did the simmering dispute between Beathard and Pardee. Beathard wanted younger players to get more action. Pardee wanted to stick with veterans. And each seemed to think he was in charge.
Cooke's frustration with the conflict and the team boiled briefly after a 35-21 loss to the Bears in Chicago in the season's 10th game. The Redskins record by then was 3-7, and Cooke knew that a key decision needed to be made.
"Not that anything I said made a difference, but Mr. Cooke did ask me what I thought one day, about a month before, and I had to give my honest assessment," Bobby Mitchell said. "And my honest assessment was that we needed Bobby Beathard. We were splintering pretty good, not that Mr. Cooke hadn't seen that."
So Cooke met with Beathard and Pardee, separately and together. Beathard was a good talker, which helped considerably with Cooke, while Pardee was not. "My father said that Jack was extremely quiet, almost recalcitrant, and it was very difficult for dad to communicate with him," John Cooke recalled. "The way we operate, it is crucial to have that ingredient for success, to have that open communication, where you can get mad if you want to, but we all have the same goal in mind and you don't hold that anger."
On January 5, 1981, Cooke fired Pardee, who had two years left on a contract that paid $125,000 a season. "I was hoping I could remain," Pardee told The Washington Post's Paul Attner. "But the owner has a right to do what he wants with his team."
Cooke now faced his second pivotal decision picking a new head coach.