If you love football, you have to love Jack Pardee. The man was the game. Although he never reached the pinnacle of the sport from a championship standpoint, he basically lived a gridiron fairy tale. Gentleman Jack did it all.
Pardee was one of Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” at Texas A&M, a solid pro with the Rams and Redskins, and an accomplished coach on a myriad of stages. In fact, Pardee is the only man to serve as a head coach in college, as well as the NFL, USFL, WFL, and CFL.
Pardee died this week just shy of his 77th birthday. He had been battling gallbladder cancer for months.
An outstanding player in college and the NFL, Pardee was named an All-Pro and played in Super Bowl VII for Washington, a club he’d later coach. He coached the Bears to their first playoff appearance in 14 years in 1977.
Pardee led Andre Ware and the explosive University of Houston Cougars, a team that once scored 95 points in a game. Then, this man of faith and conviction was introduced to a whole new generation when he was named head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1990.
Pardee’s time with the Oilers was somewhat short and oh so bittersweet. The team made the playoffs his first four seasons, only to start his fifth year a dismal 1-9, which led to Pardee’s resignation. While his tenure with Houston did not result in championship rings, Pardee did leave behind a legacy: memories of exciting teams led by a coach who treated everyone with respect.
Bud Adams and Oilers brass pursued Pardee because of the success of his high octane offense at the University of Houston. The transition to the big club in Magnolia City was in many ways, seamless.
Led by Warren Moon, the Oilers racked up yards and touchdowns with Pardee calling the shots. The team made the playoffs in Pardee’s first year with a record of 9-7. The next three seasons the Oilers posted double digit win totals each season, won two AFC Central crowns, and registered a playoff win over the Jets following the 1991 campaign.
The victory over New York however was the only postseason success for the Oilers under Pardee. The team finished 1-4 overall in the playoffs during Pardee’s tenure. The losses were bitter to say the least. They were blown out by the Bengals, victims of an Elway comeback, and ousted by the Chiefs. But, nothing compares to what happened to the Oilers against Buffalo following the 1992 season. Houston was on cruise control, or so it seemed, leading the Bills 35-3 in the Wild Card game that turned out to be wilder than anyone could have ever imagined in Orchard Park. Inexplicably, the Bills stormed back and eventually won the game, tagging Houston with the biggest collapse in NFL history.
Lesser men would have buried their heads or look to point the finger of blame. Not Jack Pardee. He was a standup guy after that Buffalo debacle just as he was before it. He kept focus and led the club to 12 wins the next season.
While that playoff meltdown was epic, Pardee also dealt with other adversity ranging from the serious to the ridiculous.
The team caught flak when a player missed a big game, instead opting to witness the birth of his child. Another Oiler committed suicide. Pardee remained a steadying force for players that certainly needed one at that trying time.
Pardee was the head coach when that infamous Buddy Ryan-Kevin Gilbride confrontation took place on the sidelines and in front of a national TV audience. It’s not every day your defensive coordinator punches your offensive coordinator in the head. Yet through it all, while as confused as all of us, Pardee also came across as the sane one on a staff that at that moment was anything but.
Jack Pardee never won the Super Bowl. His teams in Houston or elsewhere won’t be remembered as the NFL’s best. But, he did things the right way. Not many guys are respected and well-liked by fellow coaches, players, media, and fans alike. Pardee fell into that rarest of categories. He did it the right way off the field too. Jack and his wife Phyllis were married for half a century. That’s something to which no championship banner could ever equate. We’ll miss you, coach. Let the Pardee begin in Heaven.