Jack Pardee's home, Hawks' Hill, sits on a remote ridge here, so far from the hand of man that his world seems effectively limited to sun and crystal night stars, pheasants, labradors and golden retrievers. Perhaps that tells what needs to be known about the man; certainly it helps to explain how he accepts "the first firing of my life" with such dignity and lack of malice.
It takes a good ear to hear the pain in Pardee's voice, but last night it was there, along with barely suppressed anger.
"I can't be a figurehead," he said. sitting in his recreation room as his five children amused themselves upstairs watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
"When I took the Redskin job three years ago, the coach was the man primarily responsible for everything. Now, the owner of the team has exercised his perogative to go in a different direction. Now, the primary responsibility lies with the general manager. The conditions of the job are not now what they were when I started. Don't tell me to win but then say, 'But you have to do it this way.'
"As the coach, I'm going to take the praise or blame for winning or losing.
I want to feel that in matters that affect the way players perform on the field, I want to be in control. . . They don't print the general manager's record in the newspaper.
"The conditions of the job weren't that way when I took it. Without that, I didn't want the job."
Pardee's dismissal as Redskin coach, while two years remained on his $125,000-a-year contract, was fundamentally that simple. He was hired to be No. 1, then told to be No. 2. He never had to think twice about his response.
"I have to be in a situation where the coach can coach and not have to worry about other angles. Things that directly affect our performance -- player personnel, who starts and who doesn't, assistant coaches -- all that has to be the coach's job. That was changing here. Yes, all the way down to who the assistants would be next year. . . That would be a good indication of the general direction things were going here," Pardee said with resigned exasperation. "Let me coach football, not jockey for position.
I saw what decision had been made here. I'd just as soon have the parting of the ways come now as later."
For Pardee, no season could have been more painful than this one.
"It seemed like we had a different catastrophe every week," he said, still amazed by his own bad luck. "Everybody had very high expectations, maybe too high. But it's not my nature to poormouth the team to protect myself for the future. I can't tell the public, 'Ah, we'll be the pits this year,' and then turn around and tell the players, 'We can beat Dallas.' I can't talk out of both sides of my mouth."
It became clear to Pardee that 1980 would be very long well before others could see it.
"We had five starters out for the opener against Dallas. One No. 1 draft choice couldn't make up for that. Art Monk is good but not that good. But I couldn't say, 'Folks, this is not what we bargained for.' When that date on the calendar (to play Dallas) rolls around, you've got to play."
Pardee was uncharacteristically somber this evening, although he managed smiles and chit-chat with the one television crew and two reporters who could find his incredibly hidden estate 50 miles from RFK Stadium. "This is the first time I've ever been fired from anything," he said. "I'm not discouraged with myself. I don't feel rejected. There'll always be a demand for anyone who does his job right. . . I've been coach of the year four times in my seven seasons. I very much want to be a coach again, and I think I will, but right now, I'm a fulltime farmer."
These last weeks, however, have been tough for the Pardee family.
"It's worst on the kids," Pardee said. "They always get the grief from the father's job and not the joy. To me, this stuff is part of the job. To them, it's abuse."
And so it seemed when the first intruders arrived. "Nobody ever found us before," was the children's response, speaking almost as one.
What of the long holiday wait for a decision from owner Jack Kent Cooke?
"Oh, I think that, without having all the information to start with, Mr. Cooke did a good job of gathering his facts," said Pardee, who, at every turn, always gave praise first. "But I will say that it didn't make for the happiest of holidays when you wait every day for the phone to ring to find out if you're being called to a meeting or if you've already been fired. . .
"When did I find out? Oh," Pardee said, conscientiously looking at his watch to give an accurate accounting, "sometime this afternoon, I forget exactly."
For Pardee, the saddest part of all this is that he will have to leave Hawks' Hill. Pardee thought the Redskin coaching job made the Virginia hills his perfect long-term residing place. Just three years ago, when Pardee quit the Chicago Bears, he said, "Everybody had one dream, one thing they know they want to do because it's perfect for them. To me, that's the Redskin job."
Last night, Pardee said, "There's no doubt it's a sad experience. To pick one place in the whole world that you'd most like to go, that you enjoy so much. . . We just love this place. . . Maybe that was my mistake. Maybe the time wasn't right. Maybe I came back here too early in my coaching career instead of trying to make it my last stop. Maybe the conditions (with an aged, George Allen-depleted team) weren't right to be successful. I guess I should have waited."
If Pardee found another job, would he move from Hawks' Hill and piney Unison?
"Wouldn't want to . . . but would."