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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,223

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This is the grave of Jack Pardee.

Born in 1936 in Exira, Iowa, Pardee moved with this family to Texas in the early 1950s. They were very poor. He was the youngest of seven children and even the kids had to work to eat. In the town of Christoval, a tiny spot on the map way out in the west Texas scrub somewhere outside of San Angelo, Pardee played on the high school’s 6-man football team. He was a great high school player. Texas A&M recruited him as a fullback, way back in the days when that position actually mattered. At A&M, he played under Bear Bryant and was on the famous Junction Boys team, when Bryant basically tortured the players through a hot Texas summer in order to make them a disciplined team. But this is lore in football history even though none of it would be remotely allowed today.

The Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 1957 as a linebacker and he played there for the next thirteen seasons, all the way until 1970, when the Washington Redskins signed him and he played there from 1971-72. He was a solid player for a long time, including being a first team All Pro in 1963 and getting a Defensive Player of the Year vote in 1972. He missed the 1965 season with an arm injury, but mostly remained pretty healthy.

After his career ended, Pardee immediately got hired by the Florida Blazers of the upstart World Football League to coach the team in its initial 1974 season. That league went nowhere but Pardee did. The Chicago Bears hired him as their head coach in 1975, despite his complete lack of assistant experience. The Bears teams of that era, and most eras for that matter, were bad and he only went 4-10 in his first year, but then the team got better and he had a 7-7 and then a 9-5 season. Pardee then bailed for the Redskins, taking the job there in 1978 and having it for three years, where he went 8-8, 10-6, and 6-10. He was then fired and replaced by Joe Gibbs, which we all have to admit worked out. He was NFL Coach of the Year in 1979.

Pardee became the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers for the 1981 season but that only lasted one year. In 1984, Pardee got back into coaching as the head coach of the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. This was a good team and had Jim Kelly as its QB. As the USFL is the only football league that has ever managed to even slightly challenge the NFL, it had the money to pull great prospects like Kelly into its ranks. But the USFL was always financially sketchy and after the 1985 season, the team merged with the New Jersey Generals, owned by Donald Trump. It should have been a dominant team. It had Herschel Walker too. But then the USFL shut down and Kelly went to the Bills and Pardee was out of a job again.

By now, Pardee was considered an offensive genius due to his run and shoot offense. He didn’t invent that–Mouse Davis at Portland State has the biggest claim to that–but he was one of the progenitors of it. He ran high test passing offenses. So when the University of Houston hired him in 1987, he brought that with him. It worked out. Andre Ware was his quarterback and put the legendary 95-21 beatdown on SMU, in which the Cougars had over 1,000 yards of offense in a single game. Ware became the first Black quarterback Heisman winner. But in the classic way of the NCAA, the organization found Houston guilty of massive violations from the previous coach and so the program was placed on a bowl and television ban, despite no one actually presently there being guilty of the violations.

In 1990, Pardee returned to the NFL to coach the Houston Oilers. You’d think I’d remember Pardee as I watched a ton of football by then, but I don’t really. I certainly remember the team, but not Pardee. These were the Warren Moon Oilers and could score points. Fun team. But then when you are following personalities such as Bum Phillips and Jerry Glanville, I can see how you could be forgotten. They were pretty good in his first four seasons, going 9-7, 11-5. 10-6, and 12-4 before completely cratering in 1994, going 1-9 before Pardee was fired. This was hardly Pardee’s fault. Bud Adams, who owned the Oilers, was basically an awful human, including for moving this very successful franchise to Nashville just to make a little more money. Well, after the team went 12-4 in 1993, Adams was so angry that he didn’t get his Super Bowl that he decided to sulk about it and just trade any player with value, including Warren Moon, who was moved to the Vikings. It’s true enough that Pardee didn’t have much playoff success and one would have thought these Oilers teams would have done a little more in terms of competing for a Super Bowl, but there wasn’t anything more Pardee could have done in 1994. Jeff Fisher replaced him.

The next year, the Canadian Football League decided to engage in a massive expansion into the United States. This was poorly thought out and was a total disaster. One of the teams they started was the Birmingham Barracudas. I have no idea what the barracuda has to do with a city 200 miles inland, but again, this was all poorly thought out. Pardee agreed to become the head coach. The team did well but literally no one went to the games and all the American teams were shut down at the end of the year.

At the end of the 2007 season, Pardee was considered to be head coach at the University of Houston, even though he was 71 years old. But Houston chose Kevin Sumlin instead and despite the disaster of Sumlin’s later career, it was certainly the right choice for the Cougars. This marked the end of Pardee’s coaching career.

Pardee died of an aggressively spreading cancer in 2013. He was 76 years old.

Jack Pardee is buried in the Aggie Field of Honor, College Station, Texas. Yes, this is a cemetery for Texas A&M legends and is pretty gross. A&M is basically a fascist school training the future lieutenants of the armed forces through its massive ROTC program that is central to school identity. So the cemetery, which is a huge celebration of Aggie culture, is filled with football guys, oil men, and minor military figures. Fun times.

If you would like this series to visit other NFL head coaches, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Pardee is presently tied for 51st in all time wins with 87. Ted Marchibroda, who also has 87 wins and was the coach of the Colts in the late 70s and then again in the 90s before a couple years with the Ravens, is in Kilmarnock, Virginia and Jimmy Conzelman, who is the third coach with 87 wins and who coached a bunch of teams in the 20s and then had a couple good runs with the Cardinals in the 40s, is in St. Louis. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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