Former Bears head coach Jack Pardee dies at 76, took team to playoffs in 1977
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org April 1, 2013 6:48PM
Chicago Bears owner George Halas, left, and general manager Jim Finks, center, pose with Jack Pardee, recently-named coach of the Bears, at a press conference in Chicago, Dec. 3, 1974. Pardee replaced Abe Gibron, who was fired along with his entire coaching staff. (AP Photo/Larry Stoddard)
Updated: May 3, 2013 6:36AM
Jack Pardee coached the Bears for only three years, but it didn’t take him long to make an impact in anything he did.
With the help of general manager Jim Finks and some good timing — the Bears drafted Walter Payton four weeks after Mr. Pardee was hired to replace Abe Gibron in December of 1974 — Mr. Pardee took the Bears from 4-10 in his first season to 7-7 in his second season to 9-5 in 1977 and the Bears’ first playoff berth since they won the 1963 NFL championship.
The Bears and the rest of the NFL are mourning the loss of Mr. Pardee, who died at 76 of gall bladder cancer, his family announced Monday. Mr. Pardee, who as a player missed the 1965 season to undergo treatment for a malignant melanoma in his left arm, was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer in November.
“The Bears family was saddened to hear of Jack Pardee’s passing,” said Bears Chairman George McCaskey in a statement. “Coach Pardee’s time with us was only three seasons, but he made an impact by ending a 14-year playoff drought in 1977. It was a spark that led toward a great decade of Bears football. Our prayers go out to his family.”
“I really liked playing for Jack. He had the players’ respect,” said former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone, who was a Bears captain under Mr. Pardee. “He was a good, old-fashioned Texas football player who knew he had to give it all, 100 percent all the time to survive, and he expected that from every player.
“If he knew you had average ability, he understood that. What he didn’t understand was if you didn’t try to get better and play beyond that. And if you did have the talent and didn’t [work], he was totally irate.”
Mr. Pardee, a linebacker, played for the Rams and Redskins from 1957-64 and 1967-72. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1972. He coached the World Football League’s Florida Blazers to the league’s championship game in 1974. He was the USFL coach of the year with the Houston Gamblers in 1984. He coached the University of Houston when quarterback Andre Ware won the Heisman Trophy in 1989.
With a record of 20-22 coaching the Bears, Mr. Pardee resigned on Jan. 19, 1978, to seek the Redskins’ coaching job. He was succeeded by Neill Armstrong.
In the 1980s, Mr. Pardee told the Sun-Times that his greatest moment with the Bears was “when Bob Thomas kicked a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds left in overtime to give the Bears a 12-9 victory over the Giants in a snowstorm. That win was our sixth in a row and gave us a playoff berth.”
The Bears lost that playoff game in Dallas 37-7, the last game of Mr. Pardee’s tenure as head coach.
An Iowa native who grew up in Texas, Mr. Pardee had an enviable football pedigree. He was one of the famed “Junction Boys” under Bear Bryant at Texas A&M, surviving the grueling 10-day summer camp that Bryant used to weed out the have-nots after being hired as head coach in Mr. Pardee’s sophomore season.
Mr. Pardee made the college All-Star team, where he played for legandary coach Curly Lambeau against the NFL champion New York Giants at Soldier Field in 1957. He played for George Allen with the Rams and Redskins, where he became a Pro Bowl linebacker. He was hired by Jim Finks with the Bears and worked for George Halas. He was the Bears’ eighth head coach, but the first to be hired from outside the organization.
“What was kind of neat was, we had a game plan of course, but he basically said [to me], ‘Here’s the key to the car. Run the defense,’” Buffone said. “That’s what he gave me. I’d make a call and he never questioned my call.”