With little else to grab their attention this first NFL playoff weekend, Redskin watchers might try an exploration of Jack Kent Cooke's mind, or at least the part presently concentraing on his football team. Surely in there is a question that might well become more intriguing during his Upperville Summit:

How well could Jack Pardee coach if I gave him a playoff team? Almost immediately. If not before the new year, certainly before the start of training camp in July. What if Jack had, in order:

An excellent defensive lineman?

Perhaps two blockers of proven quality?

A halfback faster than Ronald Reagan?

John Riggins?

With those tools, a coach incapable of building something in the 10-6 or 11-5 range Cooke insists befits Washington could then be dismissed, sent to some NFL Siberia, with a clear conscience. And a general manager who could not, on command, deliver such a shopping list should be asked to turn in his air-travel card and stopwatch.

Some Washingtonians may be cringing, for this does smack of the sort of deficit-spending, future-is now Allenistic dizziness that creates wonderful teams in a hurry and then destroys them nearly as fast. Yep, this is George's way, but with someone other than George doing it. With the Redskins, in fact, praying George resurfaces somewhere else and helps then get better even sooner.

There is nothing wrong, it says here, with Allen's theory of trading draft choices for veterans with obvious ability. Of course, nobody has ever won a Super Bowl with it. And it is much more risky than the traditional, build-with-younger-players method everybody but bum Phillips now uses.

This is the football equivalent of nitro. In the proper hands, it can blow the opposition to smithereens in an instant. One or two false steps, say trading first-and second-round draft choices for Duane Thomas and two firsts and a second for Dave Butz, is NFL suicide. Suddenly, you are among the NFL dead, keeping company with the New Orleans Saints.

Still, this might be the Redskins' best route at the moment. It might be the only way to quickly vault over the Cowboys and Eagles -- or at least break even with them each season and whip most everyone else regularly enough to make the playoffs. It might be the only way to keep from wallowing in mediocrity much longer than Cooke -- or Redskin customers -- care to tolerate.

Hardly anyone can believe Cooke came here to preside over a long-term reclamation project, that he will be content to strut back and forth among the rich and powerful he invites to his box for each home game and say: "Yes, I know we're frightful this season, but wait two or three years. Be patient, like I am."

Cooke patient? Possible, for we honestly have no real read on him a year after he assumed daily control of his team from Edward Bennett Williams. But Reagan seems more likely to campaign passionately for ERA than Cooke is to endorse some three-year plan for Redskin reconstruction.

General Manager Bobby Beathard told The Post's Paul Attner this week the Redskins are three years from being a team whose appearance in the playoffs would not be regarded as a fluke. He said something like that not too long after he was hired, three years ago. How many three-year plans can Cooke stand?

And how much longer can Cooke -- at age 68 -- sit quietly and watch Williams, his minority partner with the Redskins who ran them quite well in his absence, go about giving the Orioles exactly what they need to remain among the very elite in baseball?

For whatever reasons -- and Cooke will determine them shortly -- Pardee and Beathard have given the Redskins almost no long-range direction in their three years since replacing Allen. They have tried both ways of buildong a team, trading and developing young players, and it has produced a wildly erratic sort of 24-24 ordinariness.

It is about time Cooke said to them: "You will do it my way. Or at least one way." He should give them a time frame to take him as far as the NFC championship. He might as well commit the 1982 draft, and possibly some of 1983, to get there as quickly as possible.


Because Joe Theismann will be 32 before the next regular season is more than a week old. Because Mark Moseley will be 33 in March. Because Lemar Parrish was 33 two weeks ago. Because Dave Butz will be 31 and Coy Bacon 73, or nearly so, this summer.

These are the Redskins' best players, their core, and they might well be too old to contribute mightily by the time another crop of Monks and Colemans is harvested by the slow, traditional, through-the-draft way. If Cooke commits the Redskins to a trade-for-veterans, policy there would be a much larger core. What Redskin fan would not like another 1972 a decade later?

Both the Cowboys and Eagles are relatively young, and with more draft picks this season than the Redskins. How can Washington move ahead of them except by looking ahead to future choices -- and using them now?

The Redskins should not necessarily trade their No. 1 pick this season, for it is high enough to fill one of their obvious needs. But they could swap some future choices to patch other huge holes. This philosophy would be contrary to Beathard's entire NFL history, but he is a gifted personnel man. And someone with the ability to judge whether a 19-year-old has an NFL future can apply the same skills to watching an NFL veteran.

By now, both Pardee and Beathard had better realize that together they could create a memorable team but that separately each might fail. Pardee should remember that his friend, Ted Marchibroda, failed in Baltimore partly because he had lousy scouts and Beathard should realize that no coach worth more than blackboard chalk will have his roster dictated by the GM.

In case of ties, honest differences of opinion, the benefit must go to the coach.

Already, Cooke has seen Pardee under extreme pressure. What could be worse than having to coach with every player and every fan knowing your job was in severe jeopardy the final three weeks of the season? With Cooke silently fueling that talk, Pardee went 3-0. He beat arguably the AFC's best team, the Chargers, one that always plays the Redskins tough and one that nearly always finds a way to lose to them.

In his six years as an NFL coach, Pardee never has had teams as good as the best in his conference. He left Chicago too soon; some believe he arrived in Washington too late. Cooke can put an even larger burden on him by giving him players as good as Dick Vermeil has. And Tom Landry. And Chuck Noll.