Jack Pardee was sitting in his office at Redskin Park, patiently answering questions about his future, when someone asked the coach how he possibly could cope with the pressures that seem to building on him each day.
"I'll be doing a lot of looking at those," he said, pointing to a stack of St. Louis Cardinal game films. "They'll keep me occupied."
In what could be his final days with the Redskins, Pardee appears as unflustered and as calm as he did last year, when his team was preparing for a division championship game. His voice remains steady and gentle, he still can laugh and joke, and he is as patient and as hard-working as ever.
"You never hear Jack complain, no matter how bad it's been for him this season," said one staffer. "I know this sounds corny, but Jack answers to different priorities than the rest of us, he really does.
"He'll never talk about it, but having survived a cancer operation and being as deeply religious as he is, he is strong enough to hold up. What's the threat of losing your job when you've almost lost you life?"
Pardee does have great faith. And possibly that is the key to how this stoic man has managed to hold up so well this season, despite the constant speculation about his job.
Except for his outburst earlier this week concerning what he believes are problems within the organization, Pardee has ignored numerous opportunities to strike back at his critics. And even that outburst was limited to one interview. By the next day he was trying to play down his remarks.
"What happened Saturday morning, when those newspaper stories came out talking about what players wouldn't be back next year, got Jack more upset than anything else that has happened this year," said a team source. "Nothing (owner) Jack Kent Cooke has done or said has bothered him as much, at least outwardly.
"But Jack has stayed remarkably under control. Does he let off steam behind closed doors? If he does, I never hear him. None of us do. He just continues doing his job every day."
Pardee's major problem the last two weeks has been a lingering cold and hoarseness, a problem that has plagued him since his cancer operation, when a tube was in his throat for three days.
He also can't shake the constant shadow on his future. After undergoing an afternoon-long press grilling Monday, he has tried to keep subsequent questions centered on the Cardinals. That's the word at Redskin Park, even if the notion is as naive as trying to halt a waterfall with your bare hands.
"I really don't have time to think about anything else but this game," Pardee maintained. "I have a job to do and I try to do it to the best of my abilities.
"We won't be cutting any corners this week. Our schedule will be the same as usual. I'm still the coach here and I'll work that way. There is no reason for me not to.
"The talk about me only bothers me from the standpoint that it distracts from the team. No one wants to know about our opponent anymore. Just about what is going to happen to me. I'd rather have the spotlight somewhere else." w
Pardee always has been uncomfortable in the spotlight. He'd much rather be surrounded by the tools of his business: the game films, the practice field, the projector, the game plans, the intricate tactics.
He is a shy man who does not make conversation readily, a trait that has hurt him in dealings with his players, who for the most part seem indifferent to his problems. People who have dealt with him for years on an intimate basis admit that they really don't "know" him that well, that he is a fine, decent man with a kind heart -- "He'd do anything for someone who is in trouble or needed a favor," said one friend -- but that he keeps much to himself.
Other coaches by now probably would be defending themselves loudly, building a case for their continued employment. Not Pardee. He has talked calmly this week about how the Redskins have been playing "playoff-caliber football" on defense the last five games and about how, with a few breaks, they'd be in the playoff hunt even with all their early misfortunes.
"Even if we don't win this week, it doesn't change things in my mind," he said. "I know I can coach and I know I can win in this league. I'm no different than last year, when we were 10-6. I do things that have proven to be successful."
But doesn't he sometimes feel like telling everyone to get off his back?
"No," he said, with a smile on his face. "I don't think that would prove anything. It's not all that bad, anyway."
A number of players have the flu, but cornerback Lemar Parrish was the only one to miss practice yesterday . . . Defensive tackle Perry Brooks' ankle is better and he may play some against the Cardinals . . . The team probably will enter the St. Louis game as healthy as it has been in weeks.