Jack Pardee

Jack Pardee died yesterday. He was 77, and had cancer.

Most football fans haven’t heard of Pardee, one of the most innovative and inventive coaches of the 1970s and 80s. He wasn’t legendary like Tom Landry, wasn’t larger than life like Bill Parcells, didn’t carry himself with Jimmy Johnson’s swagger or speak with Vince Lombardi’s Godliness.

And yet, Pardee did something very few coaches are able to do: He changed.

Those who do recall Pardee think of him as the coach of the Bears during Walter Payton’s rookie season in 1975. At the time, Chicago’s offense was painfully dull and predictable, and fans slammed the coach for refusing to open things up. What they didn’t know (or understand) was that Pardee, well, was really, really smart. First, he possessed one of the most lethal weapons in NFL history—and damn well wanted to use him in a stadium that was overwhelmed by wind gusts. Second, GM Jim Finks always refused to use high draft picks to select quarterbacks, and Pardee recognized his signal callers (Vince Evans, Mike Phipps, Gary Huff, Bob Avellini) couldn’t get it done. Hence, Chicago ran and ran and ran and ran and ran.

Five years later, Pardee coached the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. His quarterback was a kid out of Miami named Jim Kelly. He was blessed with a fleet of small, fast, quick wide receivers—and the Gamblers lit up the league. They threw the ball with abandon; so much so that NFL teams copied the four-receiver run-and-shoot set without giving much credit. It was Pardee’s idea; Pardee’s offense. Hell, much of what you see today (balls flying left and right) comes straight from the mind of Jack Pardee.

We should remember that.