Jack Pardee, a Star at Texas A&M And an N.F.L. Coach, Dies at 76
Published: April 2, 2013
Jack Pardee, a survivor of Coach Bear Bryant’s merciless “Junction Boys” training camp at Texas A&M who went on to become an All-Pro linebacker and a coach of the year in the N.F.L., died on Monday in suburban Denver. He was 76.
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
The cause was gallbladder cancer, said the University of Houston, where Pardee oversaw a high-powered offense as head football coach in the late 1980s. Pardee, who had retired to a ranch in Gause, Tex., died at a hospice in Centennial, Colo., which he had entered to be near family members.
Pardee was an outstanding fullback and linebacker at Texas A&M and was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
He played at linebacker for 15 seasons in the National Football League , with the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins. He was named a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl player with the Rams in 1963.
He later coached the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins, and his many coaching stops included three Texas teams: the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League, the University of Houston and the N.F.L.’s Houston Oilers, whom he took to the playoffs four consecutive times in the early 1990s.
But Pardee especially endeared himself to Texas football fans for his part in a storied chapter of the state’s football history.
When Bryant arrived from the University of Kentucky to become the coach at Texas A&M in 1954, he was determined to mold a team that could endure almost anything.
He took more than 100 hopefuls, among them Pardee, a sophomore, to a parched, makeshift training camp at the western edge of Texas Hill Country, near the little town of Junction, some 115 miles northwest of San Antonio.
Beyond the prying eyes of administrators at the College Station campus, Bryant put the players through brutal drills in temperatures rising well beyond 100 degrees and denied them water or ice for much of the time.
After a 10-day ordeal, Pardee emerged among only 35 survivors, the others having gratefully taken bus tickets back to College Station. The story of that training camp was told by Jim Dent in his 1999 book, “The Junction Boys.” In 2003, ESPN presented a television movie based on those events, with Tom Berenger playing Bryant. Pardee reflected on his Junction Boys days when he visited Mineral Wells, Tex., in 2011 to speak to Texas A&M alumni.
“Coach Bryant wanted to find out who wanted to pay the price to not only play football, but to win,” Pardee was quoted saying by The Mineral Wells Index, the town newspaper. “He asked us how are we going to react after having been dazed or knocked out, or if the temperature is 110 and you are tired. He called that getting ready for the fourth quarter.”
That regimen, Pardee said, inspired him when he coped with surgery for life-threatening melanoma during his N.F.L. playing days.
“Coach Pardee was a genuine Texas legend,” Warren Moon, Pardee’s star quarterback with the Oilers, told The Houston Chronicle.
John Perry Pardee was born on April 19, 1936, in Exira, Iowa, but his family moved to Christoval, near San Angelo, Tex., when he was a youngster so his father, Earl, could receive treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in its mineral baths.
When a Texas A&M assistant named Willie Zapalac was recruiting in 1952, he was tipped off to Pardee by an alumnus of the university. The youngest of six children, Pardee had worked in oil fields since he was 14 to help support his family and developed a muscular body. He ran for more than 50 touchdowns that season, playing six-man football for his small high school.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 225 pounds, Pardee played three seasons for Texas A&M and was one of three captains on the 1956 team, which had a 9-0-1 record and was ranked No. 5 nationally in the Associated Press poll.
Pardee was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the second round of the 1957 N.F.L. draft.
He played linebacker for the Rams from 1957 to 1964, sat out a season when he had surgery for a melanoma, played another five seasons with Los Angeles, then finished his playing career with the Redskins in 1971 and ’72.
He was the head coach of the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1977, when he took them to the playoffs for the first time since they defeated the Giants in the 1963 N.F.L. championship game.
He coached the Redskins from 1978 to 1980, and while his teams never made the postseason, he was named the N.F.L.’s coach of the year by The A.P.in 1979, when the Redskins were 10-6.
Pardee oversaw a previously conceived offense known as the run and shoot, a creative passing attack, when he coached the Gamblers in the mid-1980s.
He used that offense at the University of Houston from 1987 to 1989. His last Cougars team was led by the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Andre Ware.
Pardee was named the coach of the Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans franchise) in 1990. Though they reached the postseason in his first four years, the Oilers traded Moon to the Minnesota Vikings before the 1994 season. They were 1-9 that year when Pardee was fired and replaced by Jeff Fisher.
Pardee is survived by his wife, Phyllis; 5 children; and 12 grandchildren.
In his talk in Mineral Wells, Pardee remarked that he was “very fortunate to get to play college football coming out of tiny Christoval.”
“I never thought about quitting,” he said of his time with the Junction Boys. “If I did, where would I go, Christoval? Hey, I worked hard to get out of there.”
In “The Junction Boys,” Dent wrote that the town of Junction had not grown much since the Texas A&M training camp days, but that plentiful rain had yielded abundant grass in what had been a drought-stricken region.
“Junction got a bad rap when we were there in the 1950s,” Pardee told him. “It’s really a beautiful place.”