Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, yesterday fired Coach Jack Pardee, who lost out in a front-office power struggle with General Manager Bobby Beathard just one season after he was named National Football Conference coach of the year.
Cooke, ending six weeks of speculation, said he was forced to choose between Beathard and Pardee when it became apparent to him that the two men held "divergent views of how to produce a winning team for Washington."
"I face the hard task of choosing between the two philosophies," Cooke said. "After careful consideration, I have decided to endorse Mr. Beathard's program of a winning future for the Redskins."
Pardee was determined to go with his veteran players in an attempt to salvage the past season, while Beathard wanted to rebuild by using his younger, inexperienced players.
Pardee's firing came 15 days after the Redskins finished the season with a 6-10 record, the team's worst in 17 years. Pardee was 24-24 in three years as the Redskin head coach.
He has two years left on his contract, which pays him $125,000 per year. Cooke said the club would honor the remainder of that contract.
"I was hoping I could remain," Pardee said last night. "But the owner has a right to do what he wants with his team.
"We had a lot of setbacks this season that we couldn't foresee. Every week there was a different catastrophe. As quickly as this team went down, it can bounce back next year just as quick.
"As of now, I'm a full-time farmer," Pardee continued. "The direction they want to go is not the way I started the job. I'd just as soon have a parting of the ways now."
Beathard, given a three-year contract extension last May, said he will leave today on a trip to screen potential coaches. Both Cooke and Beathard refused to comment on a possible successor. Beathard did say he would favor an NFL assistant coach over a college head coach or an ex-professional head coach.
Current, professional assitant coaches considered strong head coaching candidates are Dan Reeves of Dallas. Joe Gibbs of San Diego, George Perles of Pittsburgh, Tom Bass of Tampa Bay and Dick Coury of Philadelphia.
It was reported previously that the Redskins have had informal contact with three other candidates: George Allen, former Redskin coach; John Robinson, head coach of the University of Southern California and John Madden, former coach of the Oakland Raiders. Beathard said he did not intend to talk to Allen but would not erule him out. Madden says he does not want to resume his coaching career. Robinson recently signed a contract extension.
Sources said it is unlikely Allen would return to the Redskins as long as Beathard is general manager. Allen's philosophies do not agree with Beathard's, and Allen also has insisted he must have complete control of his football situation.
According to sources, Cooke agonized over the decision to fire Pardee, saying it was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do as a team owner. One source said Cooke is very fond of Pardee and considers him "a true gentleman and a fine man. He says Jack has never done anything to harm anyone. But there was just no way that Beathard and Pardee could exist together any more."
Pardee was hired after the 1977 season by team president Edward Bennett Williams after the club and Allen were unable to agree on the terms of a new contract. Pardee, a former Redskin linebacker, left the Chicago Bears' head coaching position to come to the Redskins. His teams had records of 8-8 and 10-6 prior to this year.
Williams signed Beathard, former Miami player personnel director, as general manager three weeks after he hired Pardee.Neither had final authority in the front office, and sources say Cooke finally determined that the club was being hindered by a lack of leadership.
Williams said yesterday that he had no comment at this time. "Sometimes," he said, "you can't improve on silence." Williams had endorsed Pardee strongly on Dec. 19.
Prior to the 1979 season, Cooke moved to Virginia. He had become majority owner in 1974 but had allowed Williams to run the team while he lived in California. Cooke took active control of the franchise after Williams bought the Baltimore Orioles in late 1979.
In 1979, the Redskins came within two minutes of winning the National Football Conference's East Division title, but lost out to an heroic Dallas Cowboy comeback in the final game of the season. The Redskins did not make the playoffs.
This season's expectations dimmed with the unexpected training camp retirement of fullback John Riggins, over a salary dispute, and a series of early injuries. The Redskins lost five of their first six games and were 3-10 after 13 games. They defeated one team -- San Diego -- with a winning record.
After the team's 35-21 loss to Chicago on Nov. 9, it became apparent Pardee's job was in jeopardy. Cooke publicly questioned the Redskin's determination and will to win, a move considered to be a slap at his head coach. Cooke later announced that neither Beathard nor Pardee would be released before the end of the season.
After the season's end, Cooke met with Beathard and Pardee three times at his Upperville, Va., estate. During those meetings, Cooke said he realized the full extent of differences between the men.
Those differences concern personnel and coaching philosphy. Pardee was not in favor of a large-scale roster turnover (Washington has 16 players 30 years or older), despite the Redskins' record. Beathard leans toward major roster changes, and he differs with Pardee's conservative offensive approach. Cooke also had been critical this year of the Redskins' play-calling.
Beathard was upset that many of Pardee's roster decisions at the beginning of the season were geared toward making a run at the playoffs while sacrificing promising players for the future. When the Redskins began losing, the difficulties intensifed.
"In taking this action," Cooke said in a prepared statement yesterday, "I expect that the differences which have existed within the Redskins organization will not be resolved."
"I believe the coach should have control and not have to worry about being shot down from other angles," Pardee said, obviously referring to his conflict with Beathard. "Everything that affects the record on the field should be under the coach's control. They don't print the general manager's record in the newspaper.
"It's a sad experience," Pardee added. "It's the first time I've ever been fired from anything. But I'm not discouraged with myself. I've been coach of the year four of the seven years I've been a head coach. I think -- and I want to -- have the chance to coach again."
Pardee's reputation is that of a low-key coach, more a tactician than a motivator. He was not disliked by his players, but few spoke out in his behalf during the latter part of the season when he was under heavy pressure. He also came under heavy criticism for not playing popular safety Ken Houston on the day the club honored him late in the season.
Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann was asked yesterday if he thought the Houston controversy had something to do with Pardee's firing. "I don't know," Theismann said. "But from a public relations standpoint, it was just terrible."
Pardee previously had produced winning teams with the Bears and the Florida Blazers in the World Football League. He played college football at Texas A&M under Paul (Bear) Bryant before beginning a professional career with Los Angeles and Washington. His career was interrupted by an operation for cancer, but after sitting out a year, he returned to the NFL. He retired after playing on Washington's 1972 Super Bowl team.
When Pardee was hired by the Redskins, who gave him a five-year contract, he said it was the one coaching job he had always wanted. "Maybe that was my mistake," he said. "The time wasn't right yet. Maybe I should have waited and come to Washington later."