From the moment Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke began meeting last week with Bobby Beathard and Jack Pardee, the power structure within the Redskin front office changed. It appears that, for the first time, Cooke wants to take firm control.
That's the significance that sources and longtime Cooke watchers attach to this puzzling series of meetings Cooke is holding at his Falling Brook estate in Upperville, Va., with Beathard, his general manager and Pardee, his coach.
The meetings, sources say, are Cooke's first steps toward trying to reshape the Redskins into an NFL power. After months of increasingly vocal involvement, Cooke apparently wants to correct what he believes to be leadership problems in the Washington front office.
The result is that these are now, without question, Jack Kent Cooke's Redskins. Before, as one source said, "There just hasn't been anyone running the team, one guy where you knew the buck stopped."
"I think Mr. Cooke is here to stay," another source said. "He's not going back into an observer role after this. That's not his past history with the Lakers or the Kings, when he owned them in Los Angeles.
"He likes to be involved. He likes to take an active role. People might have thought he was active already with the Redskins, but they haven't seen anything yet."
Cooke gained a reputation in Los Angeles for being an activist owner who enjoyed making trades, negotiating contracts and involving himself in day-to-day detail. Unlike Edward Bennett Williams, the team president who prefers low-key, behind-the-scenes involvement, Cooke enjoys being visible. Under Cooke's front office structure, the general manager, for example, always works in concert with the owner.
When Cooke first came to Washington last season, sources in Los Angeles said it was only a matter of time before he assumed a more active role. A lesser role, such as a that of a consultant, did not fit his personality.
But he remained in the background until the club started to lose early this season. Even when he started to speak out publicly, he said he was serving more in the role of an advice giver, a description Beathard doesn't dispute. Now Cooke apparently has taken the next step, assuming active leadership.
Cooke has not revealed details of the first two meetings. But it seems almost certain that he has decided that the front office setup has not worked.
After three seasons together, Beathard and Pardee still don't have a master plan detailing how the Redskins should be shaped (i.e., through the draft, through trades). The club is 9500 under their regime, a regime that is unique among NFL clubs because the general manager was hired after the coach and does not have any more authority than the coach in running the operation.
The major problem created by this structure, which was devised by Williams, who hired both men, has been the apparent lack of a final decisionmaker who could settle major conflicts between the two. Pardee coaches the players; Beathard drafts and signs them. But beyond that, there has emerged a muddled area of authority with no one in charge. Beathard's feeling that it will take three more years for the Redskins to become a consistent playoff contender illustrates the resulting difficulties.