Former Bears coach Jack Pardee (1975-1977), shown at left greeting Bears WR James Scott after Pardee left the Bears, died on April 1st at the age of 76. Pardee departed the Bears under questionable circumstances, but regardless his life story is pretty remarkable in my opinion.
Pardee was one of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s “Junction Boys” at Texas A&M University. One of the remarkable parts of Pardee’s life occurred in 1964, when he missed a year of football as he battled malignant melanoma at the age of 29. According to Jeff Pearlman’s book “Sweetness”, Pardee was told that he should have his arm amputated in order to save his life. He instead chose an experimental treatment, which cured him at the time. He then went back to playing football.
In 1975, new Bears GM Jim Finks chose the 38 year old Pardee to be his first head coach. Looking back, I kind of liken the Bears situation at that time to the present-day Chicago Cubs. The Bears were embarking on an experiment of their own, with George Halas Sr. and Jr. turning over the reins of their franchise to outsiders for the first time.
Finks and Pardee had the team headed in the right direction, and the team rallied by winning the final six games of the 1977 Chicago Bears season to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. But as dramatically happy a time that must have been for the team, Pardee was engineering his and the team’s demise.
Former players’ of Pardee’s that were quoted in his Chicago Tribune obituary were remarkably vague about what happened, possibly out of respect for a good man. But it has been clearly been put on the record that Pardee was more concerned about taking the Washington Redskins’ head coaching job than preparing the Bears for their wild card playoff game at Dallas. I have been told for my Chicago Bears History book that Pardee was more concerned about readying his house for the move than getting the team ready for the playoff game. The Bears were throttled by the Cowboys 37-7, and Pardee quickly left for Washington.
In retrospect, Pardee’s replacement Neill Armstrong was not up to the task. But one good thing that did come out of the change was Armstrong bringing Buddy Ryan to Chicago as defensive coordinator.
Pardee’s passing is sad to me because the former Bears coach reminds me vividly of my childhood. I started watching the Bears in Armstrong’s second season, but I still remember my Dad telling this eight year old that Pardee was a good coach and it was a shame that he had to leave. When the grizzled Pardee became the head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1990, that also took me back to my childhood. And the memory of him presiding over the Buddy Ryan-Kevin Gilbride fight…priceless.
Another legend from my childhood deceased. May he rest in peace.