Ten months ago, Jack Pardee was receiving congratulations for being named NFL coach of the year. Now, he is fighting to save his job. Today, he has to prove he can still motivate his Redskin players or risk losing forever the confidence of owner Jack Kent Cooke.
When Washington takes the field to play the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. in RFK Stadium (WDVM-TV-9), Cooke will be in the owner's box, keeping a mental scorecard on his players. He will be ranking what he calls "our will to win, our determination, our desire," traits he feels the Redskins have been lacking the last two weeks.
Of course, Cooke can't fire the entire team. But he can fire the coach. And that is the obvious message behind Cooke's public pronouncements this week challenging Pardee and the players to snap out of their lethargy and begin performing with what Cooke calls "Redskin pride."
Yet even yesterday, Washington was still having problems. Curley Culp, who was picked up on waivers from Houston Friday, reported to Redskin Park and asked that he either be allowed to play left defensive tackle or be given more money if he had to play right tackle. General Manager Bobby Beathard refused and Culp and his agent, Jerry Argovitz, returned to Houston.
Washington then waived Culp and activated wide receiver Zio McKinney, who had been on the injured reserve list with a sore leg.
"We told Curley he would be used at both tackle spots but we really wanted to shore up the right tackle," Beathard said. "But we certainly weren't going to give him anything extra to play right tackle. He understood and there were no hard feelings."
After that episode, Pardee must think nothing he does will turn out right this season. He realizes that this is the most crucial game of his three-year Washington tenure, if not of his entire pro coaching career. And the irony is that Cooke says he isn't necessarily asking for a Redskin victory over the high-flying Eagles, who are favored by six points. He says he'll be pleased if his team shows some fire.
So the main questions become: Can Pardee inspire his players? And will he start using some of his younger players more often in the process?
Pardee says he is accepting the challenge "head on."
"Our problem is to answer the challenge, not say it doesn't exist," he said.
"We are all aware of what has been said all week. "You answer it by flying to the football, pursuing, being aggressive. A good performance will answer all the criticism. You don't worry about it, you take care of it by playing good."
If Cooke's message bothered the players, they did a fine job of covering up their despair this week. But cornerback Lemar Parrish says it will be "a different Redskin team" that shows up for this game.
"We're playing the Eagles and we don't want them to embarrass us," he said.
"And we are all tired of losing. I just know that we are going to be different this time."
Added quarterback Joe Theismann: "We certainly have all the incentive we could ever need. We'd like to show people we still can play, but we can't let it bother us so much that it overwhelms our main task, which is to handle the Eagles. You have to keep all this in perspective. We'll be fired up, but that alone isn't going to win us a game."
Pardee has remained outwardly unperturbed by what has been happening around him. He has been as patient as always, answering the same questions over and over -- "Is my job at stake? I can't worry about that, it's up to the owner" -- and he has tried to prepare the Redskins for this game despite the distractions.
He also steadfastly maintains that even though the Redskins have gone from 10-6 last season to a stumbling 3-7 this year, he is the same coach.
"I haven't changed," he said. "That's what makes all this so frustrating. The staff hasn't changed, but things start going bad and they steamroll and you find yourself in negative situations."
At one point this week, Pardee told a story about his college days at Texas A & m.
"I think it was the best job of coaching Coach (Paul) Bryant ever did, this one season I was there," he said. "But our record was only 1-9 and that is all people could see.
"They kept asking him, 'What is happening, why are you losing, what is this team doing wrong?' They didn't realize that he was doing a great job, but just didn't have the players to make it work better.
"I don't blame people for being upset. That's only natural. They don't want to hear reasons, they want results. When you lose, all types of negative things develop and the best way to correct everything is to win. That creates excitement and gets everyone happy."
Like his players, Pardee believes that playing the Eagles makes Cooke's challenge easier to meet. There is a natural rivalry between the teams and the Redskins also realize that unless they play well, this could turn into a third straight embarrassment.
Still, the Eagles may be too hot to handle. They have the league's best record (9-1), a fine balance between offense and defense, a talented quarterback in Ron Jaworski and, as an added bonus, a nearly healed Wilbert Montgomery. The Eagle running back has been sidelined the last three games with a bad knee, but is expected to play today.
Once Pardee thought Philadelphia could be beaten if its running game was shut down, but now that Jaworski has become a master of ball control passing, he says he no longer holds to that theory. And the way his defense has fallen apart the last two weeks, he probably isn't sure if the Redskins can stop the Eagles under any circumstances.
"If we don't make mistakes and don't give Philadelphia too much of an edge, we can play with them," Pardee said. "I think we are ready. I have faith in how the players will respond. They know what is at stake."
And so does he.