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Pardee remembered as football innovator

April 8, 2013

HOUSTON (AP) — Jack Pardee coached in college, the NFL, the USFL, the CFL and the World Football League.

And each of those stops came after a playing career that began as one of Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” at Texas A&M and culminated in becoming an All-Pro linebacker.

Pardee, who died of cancer last Monday at 76, was remembered as an innovator, teacher, and loving father and husband by hundreds who gathered Monday to memorialize him.

Andre Ware won the Heisman Trophy in 1989 at Houston by leading Pardee’s “run-and shoot” offense. He fought back tears after the funeral as he recalled a man he thought of as a father figure. Ware said Pardee always cared about him as a person, not just a football player.

“He just taught me how to be me through the way he lived his life,” Ware said. “I think that’s the ultimate compliment that you can pay someone is that you want to live how he lived.”

Ware recalled the close relationship he shared with his former coach and joked about how, as a freshman at Houston, he’d stake out his path to lunch to run into him so he’d know who he was.

“It touches you when someone directly has an effect on who you are,” Ware said, wiping away a tear. “That’s why it hurts to let go.”

Pardee’s son, Ted, who is the color analyst for Houston radio broadcasts, said his three loves were, “God, family and football.”

“My father was just a genuine person. He was what you see is what you get,” Ted said. “He was never trying to put on airs or be phony. Maybe to his detriment, he was a little too honest and genuine. He didn’t play the big NFL card. He was just dad. He was just a genuine kind of guy and I think that’s why he touched people.”

Pardee scored 57 touchdowns for his six-man football team at Christoval High School in west-central Texas in 1952. Bryant became the Aggies’ coach in 1954 and moved their preseason camp to desolate Junction, about 100 miles northwest of San Antonio.

The state endured a severe drought and an historic heat wave that year, but Bryant worked his team through the brutal conditions and refused to allow water breaks in an effort to toughen players. Pardee was one of 35 players who made it through to the end of the 10-day camp without quitting.

Teammates from that team attended Monday’s service, as did fellow coaches, many of Pardee’s former players and Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who also played at A&M.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin brought Houston back into the national spotlight for the first time since Pardee was in charge of the team before leaving to coach the Aggies. He raved about the mark he left on the game.

“A lot of guys have won games, but to be truly innovative and do some things that other people weren’t familiar with and weren’t doing, obviously, I’m a big fan of that,” Sumlin said. “He’s a guy who put up a lot of numbers and threw the football around. When it comes to innovation, you look at what coach Pardee accomplished ... and it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t as innovative a coach as there ever was in the history of football.”

Pardee played three seasons at Texas A&M and was the 14th overall pick in the 1957 draft by Los Angeles. He played in the NFL for 16 seasons for the Rams and the Redskins before beginning his coaching career.

He spent a season coaching in the World Football League before coaching the Chicago Bears from 1975-77. He coached the Redskins from 1978-80 and was San Diego’s defensive coordinator in 1981. Pardee then coached the USFL’s Houston Gamblers and when the USFL disbanded in 1987, Pardee became the coach at the University of Houston.

The NCAA levied severe sanctions on the program in 1988, the result of violations committed under previous coach Bill Yeoman. Houston was banned from playing in a bowl game for two years and banned from playing on television in the 1989 season.

But the Cougars led the nation in total offense (624.9 yards per game) and passing offense (511 yards per game) in 1989, and quarterback Ware became the first black quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Houston finished 9-2 and ranked No. 14 in the nation.

“It’s almost impossible in football today or just football period that a defensive-minded head coach could be that wide open offensively,” Ware said. “He believed in that type of offense. He believed in scoring fast, and I think still today you still see some traits of that offense sprinkled around not only college football but in the NFL.”

His Houston teams were a precursor to the high-flying offenses now common in college football. He coached the Cougars to a 95-21 win over a just-back-from-the-NCAA-death-penalty SMU team in 1989. The Cougars became the first team in NCAA history to finish with more than 1,000 yards of offense in a game.

“We were on the cutting edge of some stuff that is still in a lot of offenses today,” Ware said. “Timing is everything and that is one of the things he told me. We were going to be able to do some pretty significant things because we were the first to do them.”

Pardee became the coach of the Houston Oilers in 1990, and led the team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Members of the Tennessee Titans coaching staff flew into Houston for a rosary and visitation on Sunday night.

Oilers owner Bud Adams traded star quarterback Warren Moon to Minnesota before the 1994 season, and Pardee resigned after a 1-9 start that year. He ended his NFL coaching career with a record of 87-77.

Pardee’s last coaching job came when he worked for the Birmingham Barracudas of the Canadian Football League in 1995. His name emerged several years later for the Houston job, but the school hired Sumlin instead.

He spent his final years raising cattle on his ranch in Gause, Texas. After a life spent in football, his family joked that he liked dealing with cows because “they didn’t talk back and they didn’t have contract issues.”

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