Jack Pardee, an All-Pro NFL linebacker whose career with the Los Angeles Rams was interrupted in the mid-1960s when he battled malignant melanoma before returning to the field and becoming a well-traveled coach, has died. He was 76.
Pardee, who was found to have gallbladder cancer in November, died Monday in Denver, said David Bassity, a spokesman for the University of Houston, where Pardee coached in the 1980s.
After 13 seasons with the Rams, Pardee finished his playing career with the Washington Redskins and then began his coaching odyssey. He held seven head-coaching positions with the NFL, the Canadian Football League, the United States Football League, the World Football League and in the Division I college ranks.
As a player at Texas A&M, Pardee was one of the “Junction Boys” who survived Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s grueling training camp in hot and dusty Junction, Texas. More than 100 players began drills in the summer of 1954; 10 days later, only 35 remained on the team, including Pardee, who became an All-American linebacker for the Aggies.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Pardee was drafted by the Rams in 1957 and became a mainstay of the defense, earning All-Pro honors in 1963.
In early April 1964, Pardee read a newspaper account of Jim Umbricht, a pitcher with the Houston Colt .45s who had died of melanoma. Pardee decided to see a doctor about a black mole on the back of his upper right arm. On April 19, 1964, his 28th birthday, he had surgery at UCLA to remove a cancerous tumor.
“I never met Jim Umbricht,” Pardee said in a 2003 interview with the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “But I’m alive today because of Jim Umbricht.”
Only a few months later, he rejoined the Rams for all 14 games of the 1964 season. He left the team in 1965 and worked as an assistant coach at Texas A&M but returned the next year and played five more seasons in L.A. and two in Washington before retiring in 1973.
A rugged player known for his toughness and ability to withstand as well as deliver physical pressure, Pardee built his coaching reputation on defense, turning to the high-flying “run and shoot” offense later in his career.
“I learned this game playing for three great coaches, Paul Bryant, Sid Gillman and George Allen,” Pardee told The Times in 1978. “Naturally, I’m my own man, but I went to some good [coaching] schools.”
He got his first sideline job in 1974 with the Florida Blazers of the World Football League. In 1975 the Chicago Bears gave him his first NFL coaching position. He spent three years there, then three more in Washington before owner Jack Kent Cooke fired him.
In 1984 Pardee signed on as coach of the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. His quarterback was Jim Kelly, who set passing and scoring records with the prolific run and shoot offense.
After the USFL folded, Pardee took his high-scoring offense to the University of Houston and guided the Cougars to a host of NCAA records and quarterback Andre Ware to the Heisman Trophy.
Pardee left the school after three seasons, in the wake of NCAA sanctions for violations from a previous coaching regime, and returned to the NFL in 1990 as coach of the Houston Oilers. In Warren Moon, he again had a stellar quarterback to work with. The Oilers reached the playoffs in Pardee’s first four seasons as coach, but he resigned after starting 1-9 in 1994.
After a stint in the CFL, Pardee retired from coaching. He finished with an overall record of 87-77 in the NFL and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
John Perry Pardee was born April 19, 1936, in Exira, Iowa, and grew up in Christoval, Texas, where he played six-man football in high school. His future wife, Phyllis Lane Perryman, grew up on a nearby Texas ranch.
Pardee is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, five children and 12 grandchildren.