This time Jack Pardee retrieved his favorite blackboard without help from the sheriff. Although yesterday hardly was the time for evaluating tragedy, he did admit that what happened to him at Orlando certainly was more unusual, if not worse, than being fired two days ago by the Redskins.
The day after his team barely lost in the WFL championship game six years ago, Pardee had no team. The league was dead. Pardee had been bright enough to remove his personal items from his office to avoid them being impounded with the rest of the Florida Blazers' assets.
But he forgot to take that blackboard. It had practical as well as sentimental value -- and Pardee was able to persuade the law to unlock the padlock to the office door long enough to get it. Yesterday, it was packed long before he arrived for his final press conference at Redskin Park.
And that half-hour session was special It was about as publicly emotional as Pardee will get. Twice he seemed on the verge of a good cry, having lost the one job he wanted above all others. He hid most of the bitterness, but not all.
"Yeah, I'm bitter," he said in an instant after insisting he wasn't. "I think he (owner Jack Kent Cooke) made a big mistake. But it's his ball. He can play with it the way he wants to. It was a difference of opinion. Now I can run my farm the way I want to. . .
"There's one thing I certainly agree with Mr. Cooke on, a saying he used that I'd never heard before, that a fish stinks from the head. Not the tail or the body but the head. I think Mr. (Edward Bennett) Williams had a very successful run at running the Redskins.
"Mr. Cooke's has just started. We'll see. It's gonna take one, two, three, four years and we'll see how that goes." Later, Pardee said: "We'll wait a couple of years and see how the fish smells."
You probably have to have experienced the sort of remarkable heights and depths associated with a high-risk business such as professional football to fully appreciate the mood of Pardee and his deposed staff the day after their dismissal. Except for Pardee and Richie Petitbon, everyone had been in football long enough to have been let go somewhere before.
"They ain't gettin' any virgins here," one assistant said.
Just outside the coffee room, a man who was staying approached a man who was not and said:
"Only people still working here are allowed in."
Both of them laughed.
It was only one of the class reactions by men whose only faults may have been being too trusting and not mean enough. Probably, Pardee was not planning enough defense last season. He should have been more conscious of how to defend the turf he considered his, the turf that Williams gave him and Cooke took away.
Had Cooke been unfair to him?
"I think he was," Pardee said. "But it's like what Mr. Williams said a while back -- you've got to live by the Golden Rule." What Williams said at the Redskin welcome-home luncheon two years ago was his sly way of telling us Cooke had assumed authority once his.
The Golden Rule of sports, Williams said then, is "whoever has the gold rules."
There was every emotion possible among Pardee and his staff. They are bright enough and old enough in their profession to sense the utter incredulity of who might take their places. One of the hot prospects to assume Pardee's job is Joe Gibbs, the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers.
Gibbs might be the finest mind in coaching. He also might be able to motivate players in a way Lombardi Himself might admire. But a month ago, to the day, Pardee coached the cleats off Joe Gibbs in RFK stadium.
Gibbs' offense got embarrassed by Pardee's defense that day. A team that needed a victory to get favored position for the playoffs was riddled by a team whose fate had been decided weeks before.
During a round of interviews after his press conference, Pardee was told yesterday of a poll that overwhelmingly favored his being kept as Redskin coach.
"You didn't poll Upperville maybe," Pardee said.
Pardee said he is in no hurry to return to coaching (he has two years left in a $125,000-per-year contract) and that what Cooke wanted him to assume "was not the way my contract was written."
Pardee added, smiling: "The new contract will be written differently."
A college job has less appeal than the NFL, Pardee hinted, though "there's no magic to winning at any level."
Of Pardee's staff, the one able to offer the best perspective was George Dickson, who, at 56, has worked for some of the most successful coaches the sport has known, Lombardi with the Redskins, Frank Leahy at Notre Dame and Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma.
"Coaches go into the Hall of Fame," he said, "because they have many Hall of Fame football players. What I'm saying is that you could put Willie Shoemaker on a dammed donkey and he won't win any race against a thoroughbred. . .
"What you've got here is that other people have been drafting, we have not. And you can talk to the end of time, I don't care. You don't get stronger that route. Now we're in a situation where we've got to rebuild. But by the time you've trained the youthful players to become competent professionals that takes several years and many defeats.
"So all you've done is train them for somebody else to get ready to win with. This is more or less the crux of things, as I see it."
Dickson privately has scolded Pardee when he thought that necessary and also praised him. On balance, he wished Pardee had been rougher with some players. But he added:
"His approach is sound. I tell you what, if I was looking for something to criticize, I'd have to look a long time. And I might not find anything, because I don't ever recall him doing anything unsound. If you gave him players as good as Tom Landry's and Chuck Noll's, he'd be as successful."
The offices Dickson and the other Redskin coaches cleaned out have been uncommonly sparse all along. The nameplates on the doors can be removed by twisting two small screws a few times, adding to the obvious notion they -- and those who replace them -- can be replaced at the owner's whim.
Most of the offices appear as though the occupant spent three weeks there rather than three years. There are few personal touches. Like cut players, fired coaches are told to turn in their playbooks.
"Your tools," Dickson said, "the tools of your trade essentially are what you carry inside yourself and a projector and a playbook." He laughed. He has been fired three times in the 30-odd years he has coached since surviving Normandy and the rest of World War II.
After the 1968 season, he agreed to work for Otto Graham with the Redskins. He met Graham and was told that all was fine except that Williams, then chief decision-maker for the team, wanted to put a freeze on hiring assistants.
"I looked at him, like I am with you," Dickson said, "and told him: 'You'd better call Allied Moving and Storage, 'cause you're gone.'
"He said he had the best contract in the history of football, that he was safe."
But he was gone, as Dickson had forecast. But Dickson ended up with the same job Graham offered -- but with the next coach, Lombardi. He knows not to look too far ahead in life, adding: "You either eat here or somewhere else."