Cooke's hook finally removed Jack Pardee from the Redskins' stage yesterday. By unpopular demand, the team's majority owner fired a very good football coach and let us know he was taking firm command of his possession. Whether this came after careful deliberation or was carefully timed to avoid his being cast as some sporting Grinch, owner Jack Kent Cooke did what he seemed anxious to do for two months.
Most coaches are fired by the fans as much as by their won-and-lost record -- and after at least showing a consistent tendency toward incompetence. Few beyond Cooke and General Manager Bobby Beathard were outraged by Pardee's performance. Nobody was singing "Goodbye, Jack" in RFK Stadium this season, and Redskin fans hardly are the most tolerant.
Pardee surely has joined a highly unusual, if not unique, class of coaches: those dismissed a year after being judged the best in their profession. In Cooke's estimation, Pardee went from genius to jerk as quickly as that is possible in the NFL.
Possibly, Cooke is exactly right in his estimation of Pardee. I am always reluctant to dismiss the instincts of a man who has made a few more million than I have. Still, in his three years here -- and with considerably more problems -- Pardee won the same number of games as Bud Grant and only three fewer than one of the acknowledged NFL legends, Don Shula.
The familiar philosophical differences were offered as the reason for the Pardee purge, though Cooke was much more elegant than most owners with his public statement. After a Solomonic choice "between two philosophies," Cooke said, "I endorse Mr. Beathard's program of a winning future for the Redskins."
Beathard wanted to go with younger players, Pardee with veterans, we have been told. All along, Pardee's and Beathard's relationship has seemed strange, if not always strained. They were said to be equals in a situation where that usually is impossible.
Said the man who hired both, Edward Bennett Williams, "There was a clear dichotomy of responsibility. Both Jack and Bobby knew if there ever was a problem the three of us would sit down and work it out.
"But we never had a problem in two years."
Pardee was unable to cope with at least two major problems, one of which he could control, the other of which he couldn't. The second was that he did not have enough gifted players and not enough of the one he had stayed healthy. Still others were taken from him by Cooke.
(Also, Pardee was too good too soon. Only the most optimistic thought he could take an aging team with few draft choices to a 10-6 record and within a few seconds of the playoffs in his second year. Because he did, Cooke expected more this season. And Pardee gave him less, refusing to renegotiate with John Riggins when the Cowboys were doing precisely that with Tony Dorsett.)
But Pardee's greatest problem might have been remaining himself. He did not stroke the owner's ego, make him privy to strategy. Neither was Pardee good at con. Many coaches would have invented ways to convince the boss they were working miracles with the available players, that nobody can train a mule to win the Kentucky Derby.
Many coaches would have been preaching that daily to the owner, if not to the players and fans. Pardee stayed silent. He wanted to be judged by his record. His record, 24-24, is mediocre. Nobody cared about the extenuating circumstances.
Cooke complained about lack of imagination with the offense, a criticism of the offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, as much as of Pardee. Had he wanted, Pardee could have served Cooke some trickery, ordered a flanker pass after a handoff from the halfback. He could have done that, knowing it probably would fail -- and after it failed said, "Told you so."
When the offense went sour, Pardee became even more conservative. He knew the only way bad teams win is when better teams make mistakes against them. And the only way anyone wins consistently is for one line to regularly put the other on its backside.
Until he had sufficient faith in his defense, the Eagles' Dick Vermeil had one of the most boring offenses in the history of football.
"You might see Tom Landry use one or two (fancy plays) a game," Walton said a few hours after being told Pardfee had been fired. "Usually not that many. And we had our share. For the most part, most fans don't always realize what a trick play is.
"But there's only one way to go about building a winning team. And Jack tried to do it the right way. You can't take shortcuts. No one in the playoffs took any shortcuts. Neither did we."
Walton realizes his chances of being rehired by the next Redskin coach are slim. While he was talking over the phone, a radio could be heard somewhere in his home broadcasting the news of Pardee's -- and his -- dismissal. If Walton was bitter, that did not show.
In truth, Walton had trouble with the proper pronouns during the interview.
"If we, I mean the Redskins, add a few players," he said at one point, "and some of the players injured this year play well, and nobody gets hurt, and nothing (like a Riggins not playing) happens, we can be competitive next year."
Pardee developed a fatalistic view toward football long ago, having taken a team that did not get paid for weeks to the championship game of the World Football League. In the WFL and with the Bears, Pardee kept improving with young players.
Which leads anyone with patience to believe he can coach young players and old players, as long as they can play. And Cooke's actions indicate that anyone determined to find fault with a coach will find it.
Pardee must have realized the danger of following George Allen into this job. Allen had won grandly, but at a price certain to create chaos for his successor. At the time, it was assumed here that the coach who could win in outstanding fashion with the Redskins would not be the first one to come after Allen, but the second.
Whoever gets that chance just might be as good as Pardee, as a football coach and as a man. He will not be better.