"When he hired me, he asked me what my name was. I told him my name was Jack, but my nickname was Jake, because there's only one Jack around here. I told him my christened name was John and he said, 'Your name is John.' After that, I'd sign my name John Milford and there was at least one general manager in the league who said, 'Oh, no, not another new general mangager in the league'." -- Jake Milford, Los Angeles Kings' general manager, 1974-1977
So far, Jack Kent Cooke hasn't asked Redskin Coach Jack Pardee to change his name. But there's no denying that Cooke likes to be the man in command.
Cooke, 68, owns 87 percent of the Washington team. He is dynamic, unusual, intimidating, unbelievably brilliant, difficult, tough, demanding, and clever. Those descriptions were provided by the people who worked for Cooke in Los Angeles, people who knew him and dealt with him on a daily basis. The word his former employes never used was dull.
The Washington Post recently interviewed 13 of the 16 coaches and general managers who worked for Cooke when he owned the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings. Only four of the 16, basketball coach Joe Mullaney and hockey coaches Ron Stewart, Fred Glover and Hal Laycoe, were fired.
The man who sold the California basketball and hockey clubs in 1978 to assume control of the Redskins last year left an indelible impression.
"He was totally involved in every facet of operation of the Lakers and the Kings and every event he booked into The Forum," said Fred Schaus, the Lakers' coach from 1960 to 1967 and general manager from 1967 to 1972.
"He wanted to be totally apprised. He gave some freedom, but he wanted to know what was happening. The general managers made sure they kept him appraised. He was fully and totally involved."
The same situation apparently is coming about in Washington. According to sources, Cooke is assuming an increasingly larger role in the day-to-day operation of the Redskins, even to the point of suggesting who to play and what plays to run to Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard.
In Los Angeles, Cooke apparently assumed a larger role in running the Kings than the Lakers, a result of his youth spent in Canada playing hockey. kBut Bill Sharman, the Lakers' GM since 1976, said that Cooke became more actively involved as his basketball knowledge grew.
The day-to-day decisions, Sharman and other coaches said, were mainly left up to them. But in other matters, such as trades and drafting, "If it came down to a situation where he had the deciding vote, then, of course, he made the decision,' Sharman said. "It was his team."
Jerry West, who was both a player and coach for Cooke, said he often was at odds with the owner.
"I didn't always agree with his assessment of other players in the league," West said. "And I didn't always agree with his assessment of players on our team."
Added West, "He did know who the great superstars in the league were."
With the Kings, Cooke clashed with his coaches and general managers over his philosophy of trading draft picks for established players.
Larry Regan, former Kin coach and general manager, said the Kings originally were committed to going with youth and, in fact, posted the best record for an expansion team over the first two years. But the team also lost $1.5 million.
"Then we switched over to getting names. Like George Allen said, the future is now. But in the NFL, when you give up a No. 1 pick, you get an all-pro. When we gave up a No. 1, we got the 16th or 17th player on the Montreal Canadians."
Milford also disagreed with the trading of draft choices, but added, "His involvement with the club was a plus. He kept me and Bob Pulford on our toes. We didn't leave anything to chance, because if we did, we'd catch hell."
"At training camp our first year, he put on skates one day after everyone had come off the ice except (goalie) Terry Sawchuk. Jack tried to score a goal on Sawchuk. Of course, he couldn't. He kept trying, but he never got any pucks past him. Then he looked up into the stands and yelled, 'Jeannie, where'd you get that new outfit?' Sawchuk looked up, too, and Jack shot the puck past him. Then he left the ice. That was it ." -- Red Kelly Kings' coach, 1967-69.
Always looking for an angle, an edge. In 1934, Cooke was selling encyclopedias door to door in Veregin, Saskatchewan. By 1943, after branching out to ownership of newspapers, radio stations and factories, he had made his first million. You don't get to buy the Chrysler Building by waiting for things to happen. Cooke makes them happen.
Milford said Cooke kept a plaque on the wall that read: "I don't know but I'll find out."
"I think that's what made him successful in every business he's ever been in," said Schaus. "Every little detail is important to Jack."
Bill van Breda Kolff, the Lakers' coach from 1967 to 1969, said: "His sense for detail bothers a lot of people. If he came in one morning and saw the ashtrays were dirty, he'd start making phone calls and calling in people. I'm sure a lot of people find him very difficult to work for."
Bob Pulford, the general manager of the Chicago Black Hawks, coached the Kings from 1973 to 1977. "I feel that Mr. Cooke was one of the most intelligent men I've ever been associated with," Pulford said. "There was nothing I liked more than just listening to him. The knowledge he could impart to you was just awesome."
Part of that knowledge dealt with language. Cooke, a wordsmith, kept a large dictionary in his office, from which he would pick a word daily, and repeatedly use it in conversation. Cooke also would monitor the talk of his employes.
"He certainly corrected my own diction, sometimes to the point of embarrassment," Regan said. "But when I look back on it, I appreciate it because I didn't forget what he told me."
"He's very competitive and wants to win a lot. He also has to think he's got the best -- in evertyhing. I remember when I was hired. They announced my hiring and Hal Laycoe's at the same time and Jack announced he had hired the two best coaches in the world. I thought to myself, 'I'm a good coach, but. . . '" -- Joe Mullaney, Lakers'coach, 1969-71
Cooke believed in paying top dollar for top talent, i.e., Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and West. But he also knew the value of a dollar. Money was not to be thrown around, even on little things.
"If the going rate for secretaries was $1,000 a year," said the present general manager of the Kings, George Maguirek, "I don't think he'd pay two cents more than that."
By all accounts, Cooke is a workaholic, and expects the same from his employes. Some say they appreciated Cooke being a taskmaster. Others aren't so sure that it's the best way. Regardless, if they were going to work for Cooke, they didn't have a choice.
He'd try to get 26 hours of work out of you in a 24-hour day," said Johnny Wilson, the Kings' interim coach in 1969'-70.
Pulford: "He once told me the one reason he was successful was that he worked harder than anyone else. He'd always embarrass you. You'd be thinking you were working too hard and you'd look at him and he was working harder."
"Working with Jack was a full-time job," Mullaney said. "Nights, Saturdays, Sundays, you were like a doctor -- always on call. He was very demanding and wanted to know everything."
There was a method to this seeming madness. Cooke desires excellence. He insists upon it. But how to determine quality? Regan said Cooke's demands were a kind of test.
"He hoped to bring out the best in people," Regan said. "Some surivive and some drop by the wayside. That's how he made judgments about people: who could take it and who couldn't.
After four years, Milford apparently decided he didn't want to make it anymore.
"I miss the days with Mr. Cooke, but I lost my enthusiasm," said Milford, now the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. When Milford resigned, he said, "I felt rejuvenated."
Some of those who resigned said they did so to pursue other opportunities, and, looking back, they insist it wasn't so bad to work for Cooke.
"Would I work for him again? I'd certainly consider it," van Breda Kolff said. "He was one of the finest owners I've known."
"We were having lunch at the Forum and there was another man in there talking on the phone. He was talking quite loudly and you could see Jack noticed. Finally, Jack stood up in the dining room and shouted, 'My God! There's somebody louder than me!'" -- Johnny Wilson
An ominous silence hangs over the faltering Redskins, the team Cooke predicted for a conference title. "Knowing Jack like I do, I'm very surprised that he's kept such a low profile," said Pete Newell, the Lakers' GM from 1972 to 1976. It's the silence of an owner who, by nature, always has yearned to be heard. And was heard.
"You know exactly where you stood with him," Maguire said. "There was no indecision working with Mr. Cooke."
Van Breda Kolff, a fiery individual himself, said he knows how to deal with Cooke. "You had to stand up to Jack in a certain way or else it was all over," he said. "I know he ran roughshod over a lot of people. We seemed to have a new public relations man every year. If you were in the last bit deferential, or were slightly intimidated, he would take advantage of you. I know a lot of people who were scared to death of him."
Pulford not only said he didn't fear Cooke, but that Cooke's bluster was contrived and part of a plan for motivating.
"He would call you in and give you the devil," Pulford said. "But if you give a player the devil, he goes out and works and gets better. I was in the same position. I'd catch hell and I'd work harder. At the time, I didn't think it was deserved, but it motivated me."
Then there is Cooke's other, lessvisible side. It must exist, for Jerry West, who once had a bitter contract dispute with Cooke after he retired as a player, said, "I always felt that, personally, he was a pussycat."
"He's one of the classiest people I've ever had the privilege of knowing," Regan said. "We were very close. I like to think we still are.
"Jack would do anything for you. He would do it, but not want anyone to know. I know of a couple of substantial favors that I don't think I should mention. But they were exceptional when you consider the amounts involved."
Bob Berry, the present Kings' coach, remembered when his wife was ill and Cooke displayed his "warm, personal side."
"He was the first to call, the first to send flowers and tell her things would get better."