At 73, Jack Pardee would jump at chance to coach college again
Jack Pardee had an illustrious coaching career in NFL, USFL and World League
Pardee emphasized integrity and adapted his style around his talent
But the most fun Pardee ever had was coaching Andre Ware at Houston
The rancher wakes up around 8 every morning. He grabs a bite to eat, then drives his truck 15 miles to a filling station in Hearne, Texas, the nearest place to buy a copy of the Houston Chronicle. "I like to keep up with what's going on," he says. "In sports, in the world ..."
His life is simple and, mostly, blissful. The 120 cows that live on his property -- the Hawks Hill Ranch in Gause, Texas -- need to be fed. The grass has to be cut and the windows cleaned. There's lunch to be made, friends to see, television to watch, a good night's sleep to catch up on.
"I'm happy," he says. "Very happy."
And yet, when Jack Pardee is asked whether he would ever consider coaching football again, he stops. He doesn't murmur or mutter, sputter or stumble. He merely stops and thinks. And thinks. And thinks. And thinks. "You know," he says -- followed by another lengthy delay. "I'm 73-years old, and there's an age factor. Schools won't say that's the reason for not calling, but I have to be realistic. I'm not on anyone's radar."
But would he listen?
Another unending pause.
"Sure," he says. "If the situation were right, I suppose I would."
And with that, well, nothing happens. Nothing ever will happen. In a few moments, Pardee will hang up and check on his cattle. In a few moments, the University of Tennessee will hire Derek Dooley -- he of the 17-20 record in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. In a few moments, the remaining college programs with coaching vacancies will, in all likelihood, look for the next young, Lane Kiffin-esque slickster to breeze into town, run things for a year or two, then leave for a better job.
This is what we've come to in college football, a landscape where words like honor, decency, commitment, education and values have been wiped away with the world's biggest eraser. Instead, we find our institutions of higher learning hiring glorified used-car salesmen; fast-talking, shoe deal-seeking, promise-breaking nomads as reliable as the Kiev weather. Once upon a time, many moons ago, college programs brought in coaches who, first and foremost, were concerned with turning boys into men; with instilling values that applied to both sports and life.
"That's how I remember it," says Pardee, who compiled a 22-11-1 mark with the University of Houston from 1987-89. "You see all this negativity today, coaches telling recruits why they should ignore other schools. I never did that. What we tried to do was sell our program rather than beat somebody else's program down. I tried to sell the reasons it'd be best to sign with us."
And, if that didn't work, would he offer players free Porsches?
"Ha," says Pardee. "When I was at Houston, we'd be lucky if our checks didn't bounce. No, our goal wasn't to buy players. We wanted to win, but win with integrity."
In this regard, Pardee is a dinosaur. A standout linebacker at Texas A&M in the mid-1960s, Pardee learned under Bear Bryant, whose steely demeanor and refusal to accept losing resonated with his young star. Pardee played with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins from 1957-73, then retired to become head coach of the Florida Blazers of the long-defunct World Football League. Thus began a riveting journey through the head coaching ranks -- three seasons with the Chicago Bears, three more with Washington, then a two-season stint with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League, followed by those three years at the University of Houston.
Unlike the majority of today's up-and-comers, whose philosophies and approaches can be surmised on an index card, Pardee did what good coaches do -- he adapted. With the Bears, he had no quarterback, no receivers, a so-so offensive line ... and Walter Payton. "So we ran and ran and ran and ran," he says. "When you have Walter Payton, it's not a hard choice." Less than a decade later, however, Pardee's former Bear players were shocked to see their coach guiding the high-flying, run 'n' gun Gamblers, who lit up the USFL behind quarterback Jim Kelly and a gaggle of water bug wideouts. "It was very surprising," says Bob Avellini, a former Bears quarterback. "I never thought Jack Pardee had that in him."
He did because that's what the personnel dictated. His teams at the University of Houston were equally dynamic and high-flying, mainly because the quarterback was an unparalleled gunner named Andre Ware. "Boy, that was fun," Pardee says. "College is hard work, because there's no offseason. But the rewards are very high. You're taking young men from different parts of the country and molding them into one team. I loved that."
Just like Kiffin followed the money from Tennessee to Southern Cal, and just like Pete Carroll followed the money from Southern Cal to the Seattle Seahawks, Pardee once followed the money, too. In 1990 the Houston Oilers came along and offered an annual salary of $500,000 -- five times what he was making in college. He spent five more years in the NFL. "I can't say I regret it," he says, "but I wasn't entirely comfortable leaving the program for the NFL. I had much more fun coaching college. Were I to have that choice again, I'd probably stay [in college]."
Sadly, that choice will never come. Although he is in remarkable health, and although he would "bring in the best staff in college football," and although he has coached everyone from Payton and Kelly to Billy Kilmer and Art Monk, the phone at the Hawks Hill Ranch rarely rings.
"I suppose I'm available," he says. "But nobody knows it."
They do now.
Jeff Pearlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.