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The World Football League Web site is proud to present an interview with the 1974 WFL Coach of the Year; former Florida Blazers head coach Jack Pardee

The World Football League Hall of Fame was proud to speak with Florida Blazers' coach Jack Pardee. Coach Pardee spoke about his days with the Blazers and the trials and tribulations that the team endured throughout their infamous 1974 campaign. After the 1974 season, he was hired by the Chicago Bears and went on to continue coaching in the NFL, with Washington and Houston, and later in another rival league, the United States Football League, with the Houston Gamblers. Coach Pardee also spent time in the Canadian Football League as head coach of the Birmingham Barracudas. The World Football League Hall of Fame would like to thank Jack Pardee for his time and for sharing his memories with us.

HOF: When did you hear of the World Football League and what did you think of their chances to succeed?

JP: I was on the coaching staff of the Washington Redskins at the time. Joe Wheeler got involved with the WFL and was going to bring a team to the Washington area, but he couldn't get a stadium to play in. That's when I first heard about it- early 1974.

HOF: When did you meet Joseph Wheeler, owner of the Washington Ambassadors?

JP: The "Wheeler-Dealer". Washington was a great football area. The Redskins were very successful and their hadn't been a new league in a while, and with Gary Davidson and his track record in the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association I thought that it could be successful. With another eight or ten cities that couldn't get into the NFL it might be able to take a shot. I've learned something through the years; you can create teams, good teams, but you have to have the ownership- good owners.

HOF: The Ambassadors had difficulty securing a lease for a stadium. As the team changed from the Washington Ambassadors to the Virginia Ambassadors and continued to search for a home were you worried about the stability of the franchise?

JP: A little bit. I thought the Tidewater area would have worked out well. The Redskins had an exclusive lease on RFK, and Joe Wheeler checked out the Naval Academy and was turned down. There really wasn't a stadium in the Maryland or Virginia area that would be suitable or available to us. I was involved with the talks in the Tidewater area and at that time there really wasn't a stadium that would be pro caliber. More than that, I was involved with trying to put a team together.

Football was a different game back then. People would ask, "Why do you want to leave a secure job (coaching for the Redskins) like that?" I was a coach on George Allen's staff, I had five kids in school, and there wasn't the money like there is today- I was going broke as it was anyway. I was with a good team, but it really wasn't a great job. I wasn't risking a lot. I wanted to become a head coach and I didn't want to wait too long. I was an assistant coach for one year and I was 37 years old- and that's a bit late to start any profession. I was still a young man, but was starting late in that profession. I went to the WFL to prove that I could be a head coach. I was the low man on the totem pole with the Redskins.

Jack Pardee with wife Phyllis is named head coach and general manager at the Washington Ambassadors press conference on January 26, 1974.

HOF: Did you want the team to remain in the Washington-Baltimore-Virginia area?

JP: Yes. We were in that area, and my family like it. But when you become a head coach you shouldn't become too attached to geography. I think there was some excitement regarding the team. The Redskins had a waiting list of 30,000 people trying to get season tickets. We thought we could offer them a chance to go out and see a ball game.

HOF: The Ambassadors signed former New York Jet Bob Davis as the starting quarterback. Why did you think Bob Davis would be good for the Ambassadors?

JP: Bob was a veteran quarterback. At any level in football, you better have a good quarterback who has some training, some experience. Wanting to get started, we were all expansion teams; we wanted a good base of veteran players, not all old players, but a good core of veterans. Bob had been around football and played and I thought he was our best shot at having a good leader on the field.

HOF: What challenges did you face when you coached a veteran quarterback like Bob Davis, verses a rookie quarterback like you had in Jim Kelly in the USFL?

JP: The situations are very different. The USFL paid huge amounts of money to get young, good quarterbacks. All things being equal, you always try to get the best talent that you can. Jim had been hurt his senior year at Miami and he was a great quarterback. Bob didn't have an arm like Kelly's but he, at that time, was a sound quarterback- he recognized defense, audible, stayed on time, he could get you out of trouble, and he was smart on the field, he didn't commit many turnovers.

Coach Pardee during training camp at Madison College (now JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

HOF: When the Ambassadors announced the move to Orlando, Florida were you concerned?

JP: It was a late move. I was worried. We had never been down there. We broke camp, packed up and got on the auto train and traveled down there to a new town. Supposedly, at the time, we were going to a situation that would offer some ownership and some fans and a stadium to play in. I was excited about that. Joe Wheeler was a promoter, he didn't have any staying power and it (Washington) didn't work out. There are a lot of problems you can have, but if you don't have a stadium you're finished.

HOF: What was your impression of Blazers' General Manager Rommie Loudd?

JP: Oh...I was hoping that ownership had more credibility than he had as a general manager. David Williams was never around; he wasn't the front man for the team. I've seen that in sports before- owners staying in the background- that isn't the worst thing in the world, but I was worried about Rommie's credibility.

The only thing that Rommie Loudd brought to the table was an owner- David Williams. Williams, his father, was very credible. He had all the Holiday Inn franchises in Central Florida and up in Georgia, David's dad had a lot of money. He just got tired of giving it away. Rommie brought that to the table. He didn't really have the experience to run a franchise. He had done some scouting for the Patriots at one time, but the team was put together by then. We just needed a place to play. We ended up signing a few players out of the Central Florida area that ended up playing well for us that Rommie had some connections with; Lou Ross who ended up playing well for us, and Mike McBath, he was from the Orlando area.

HOF: What were your memories of the WFL opener against Hawaii?

JP: We were playing the game at home- a new home. There was a lot of excitement of playing the game. We stayed at a hotel that evening, and had our meetings. We didn't have a semi-professional operation at that time. It was great getting that win against Hawaii. It wasn't a high-scoring game, there wasn't any preseason- players had to get their timing down, but it was great to get the win. Hawaii had spent a lot of money to put their team together; they were supposed to have one of the better teams.

HOF: In the World Football League you were playing in smaller cities and some smaller stadiums than the NFL, what was that like for you?

JP: Going back you had to laugh or cry- we chose to laugh, but going into Downing Stadium in New York was something. It was an important game, night game, going into the 'Big Apple'. We played the Stars, it was a foggy night, and it was raining hard, and we had to really concentrate and keep focused on what we wanted to do. There were a lot of funny things going on that night. The stadium was so dark that you couldn't see what was going on out in the field. The lighting was terrible. I had Fred O'Connor and some of the other assistants' line up five yards apart on the hash marks so our guys could see where they were on the field, and where they needed to go for a first down. You couldn't see the lines on the field- it was just like kids playing out in a field at sundown.

Philadelphia. JFK was a big ol' stadium and I think there was a few thousand fans there- we had more fans at a Redskins practice. The Tangerine Bowl in Orlando wasn't a great stadium. They had tried to fix it up and put some work into it but it wasn't quite ready for football.

We played in Ypsilanti, Michigan against the Detroit Wheels. We got up there and the game was supposed to start at six o'clock, and on the news and radio there was mention of looking out for all the traffic from the people headed to the game. When we took the field for our pre-game warm-up we went through our stretching and our drills and I noticed the Detroit team hadn't taken the field. I nonchalantly looked at my watch because I thought that I had brought the team out an hour earlier that I was supposed to- there wasn't a single person in the stands! I thought I was on Eastern Time and had brought the team out too early. The ushers weren't even in the stadium. At game time a few thousand fans had come to watch us play. They (the Wheels) didn't' last too long after that.

(WFLHOF note: The Detroit Wheels fell victim to bad press on opening day. The local papers ran ads stating that the kickoff was at seven o'clock, the local radio advertised six o'clock, and fans stayed away due to worries over traffic. There was only one road leading into Ypsilanti Stadium. An opening day crowd of 10,631 ventured out to the ball game.)

One play I remember during the game with the Wheels was when their receiver, Hubie Bryant, laid a hit on our middle linebacker, Larry Ely. I mean he just laid him out. Hubie crossed the field and hit him in the chest and knocked him out cold. The Wheels had run a pitch-out, and Hubie came across the field and went after our big guy. After that, everyone on the field would look around to see where Hubie was. Hubie Bryant was a little guy, not real big, but could he ever hit. When the Wheels folded, and there was a draft of their players, we got Hubie to come down to the Blazers. What a great player. He could run and block and a lot of people in the NFL thought he was too small to play.

(WFL Web site note: The Florida Blazers actually obtained Hubie Bryant in a trade with Detroit that sent DE Don Ratliff and a undisclosed draft pick to the Wheels on August 24, 1974.)

HOF: Five weeks into the WFL season a report surfaced that Rommie Loudd was trying to reschedule the Blazers' remaining home games in Atlanta. How did this, in your opinion, affect the team and the community?

JP: At that time it was pretty bizarre. I would always spend the first day of the week talking about things with the players. When the paychecks started to not come in at all I made a point of it. I would tell them, "Hey, you don't have to do this. No one is holding a gun to your head to play. But, we're going to decide today if were going to play this week. We are going to prepare to win today, otherwise were going to shake hands and go our own way. We're not going to worry about all the problems and all the things we can't control". That way we got it out of the way, we didn't have the distractions on the field.

HOF: What discussions did you have with Rommie Loudd at that time?

JP: I didn't have much interaction with Rommie Loudd. I didn't believe Rommie any more than the players did. The league issued a cashier's check to us, stopped payment, and those payments bounced. I didn't even know you could stop payment on a cashier's check! The World Football League would issue the checks late Friday; the banks were closed over the weekend, to give them a few more days to come up with the cash. Then the league would tell me that the money wouldn't make it by Friday it would have to be Monday, and on and on.

HOF: Was there ever a time when you and the team wanted to end the season?

JP: I've told a lot of people, that in head coaching- I've had a lot of coaching jobs with the Redskins, Bears, Gamblers, Barracudas and Oilers- it was the best coaching job that I ever did. The attitude, the salary cap, in the NFL- we didn't have any pre-Madonna's on that team (the Blazers). Tommy Reamon, Bob Davis, all the guys were there for one thing- to win. When the money, what little there was, did come in, all the players got their share, their 100 or 200 dollars. The money became secondary. They cared and played for each other, they had something to prove. Orlando was a great town. Most of these guys were younger, except for Bob Davis and some others, but most of the players were single and didn't have or need much money. The people in Orlando were giving these guys places to live; groceries and the players could go down to McDonald's and eat for free. The help from the city really rivaled something like Green Bay in the NFL- the people loved the team but didn't have much money. In the NFL I never had to worry about paychecks, or how the team was going to travel, if it could afford to travel- in the World Football League I had to ensure that we had a round trip ticket when we traveled so I knew we could get home. I had to make sure that we had money for food, the bus once we were in a town- all the little things that you take for granted.

Being from the NFL I had some savings, and I would bring toilet paper in and the other bare essentials- office supplies and things like that. I had weekly conversations with Gary Davidson and the other owners. Several times there were promises that money was coming. The league was supposed to wire us money twice, and then didn't. There was always someone that was coming in to save the franchise.

Coach Jack Pardee posing for a Florida Blazers team issued photo.

HOF: What it difficult when you realized that Rommie Loudd and the WFL weren't going to offer any financial assistance?

I knew it was over then and the players did too. It was obvious that the WFL wasn't going to be able to help out the situation.

In the beginning of the WFL season things were fine. It didn't take long for the word to get around that we weren't paying our bills, and then everyone wanted the money up front. At the end of the season, we stopped playing home games and from then on if we went to Birmingham, Chicago or Memphis, or Charlotte, all of those arrangements were made ahead of time by the teams.

When the checks started bouncing or things that made it difficult, I would tell the players "Don't let it bring you down. There's always a place, a demand, for some one who does their job and does it well". That was the goal for all the players- most of them stuck it out; I think one or two guys went home.

HOF: Late in the season you took over control of the team. What events occurred to place you in that situation?

JP: Rommie Loudd was removed from the picture because he didn't have any money to run the franchise. He would tell us, "I've got buyers coming in...Arab oil sheiks are interested in the franchise..........it was all so bizarre it was unbelievable." He always mentioned that he had owners lined up.

HOF: What did you do at the end of the season to prepare the Blazers for the playoffs?

JP: We continued to talk about that- first day of every week. The biggest mistake I made was that I thought that once the playoffs began the players would share in the gate. There would be some money coming to them to help them out. I don't remember who reneged on that deal but we went to the championship and didn't get a penny.

In Memphis, we had some fans come out and we weren't paid for that game. In Birmingham, we had about 30,000 or 40,000 fans there and didn't get anything. I learned a good lesson from that. I thought the players would get something, perhaps $4,000 or $5,000 each- but the courts came in and took all the proceeds from the game. Tommy Reamon won the Rookie of the Year award and didn't receive the $10,000 he was supposed to. I won Coach of the Year and didn't get whatever they promised me. The WFL did give us money to get back to Florida. In the end, the players got $150 to travel back home.

(WFL Web site note: Tommy Reamon was named WFL Tri-MVP along with Tony Adams of the Southern California Sun and JJ Jennings of the Memphis Southmen and all three did receive a third of the $10,000 cash award.)

HOF: Was there ever a discussion about canceling the playoffs?

JP: Yes. The World Football League had to save whatever credibility they had, so there had to be a playoff. Memphis had a strong team, a good owner, and when we went up there I thought we'd get $200 each or something. The WFL was counting on Memphis winning that game and having a Memphis-Birmingham World Bowl. After we beat the Southmen the league had to send us to Birmingham. The Americans had some debts, but there was a good crowd there, and all I can remember is the police coming in and confiscating their uniforms and equipment after the game.

We should have won that game (the World Bowl). Tommy Reamon scored a touchdown and the officials disallowed it. He was clearly over, and then he fumbled the ball. We were robbed of that game. We did end up with the game ball. Larry Ely or Billy Hobbs ended up with the ball at the end of the game- there was a fight at the end and we ended up with it in our locker room. I think Billy Hayes got that ball and ran with it. All our guys were running down field blocking for him, knocking guys down after the game...........and there is Billy running with that darn game ball.

HOF: What is your most vivid memory of the playoff win against Memphis?

JP: Buddy Palazzo went in for Bob, who was hurt. We got behind in that game, 15-0. It was early in the game, and we didn't need to change our game plan. So I had Buddy hand the ball off to Tommy, and he ran, and we were able to get some points and get back into the game. We didn't need to back up and throw all the time. The defense stepped up and shut down Memphis- that allowed us to not change our game plan.

Late in the game Memphis drove down the field. They were set to try a field goal with a few seconds left and everyone thought they would win. Lou Ross got a great jump on the snap and broke through the line and blocked the kick. We didn't think we'd ever catch him. He just kept on running down the field celebrating.

I don't know why, but I thought we were going to win it all. I knew that we would win that game. Memphis was probably a better team than us but we fought back.

HOF: What was the scene in the locker room after losing the World Bowl?

JP: It was a scene. It was over. The players put so much into it- their heart and soul. The WFL was coming back but there wasn't going to be a team in Orlando that was for sure and I think the players felt it was done. The finality, the closure was there. It was sad after all that work, being committed to each other, not winning a game that we should have won. I went around, one on one, to the players and wishing them 'happy holidays' and making sure guys could get home.

HOF: During halftime of the World Bowl, TVS broadcasted a $1.5 million cashier's check that was given to the WFL from Robert Prentice. The check was supposed to be for the purchase of the Florida Blazers. What did this event do for the team's outlook on the future?

JP: That check did create some excitement. I had seen a cashier's check withdrawn, and promises broken, so the check didn't really mean much. TVS showed the check on national television and then they were duped as well.

(WFLHOF note: The certified check was drawn on LTG Inc. and later bounced. The ownership group only deposited $100,000 in the team.)

HOF: When did you realize the Florida Blazers were finished?

JP: The people in Orlando, I really respect them for the help they gave the players. The players weren't getting paid, but they got fed. The papers were very kind to the players, not the front office, but the players. The central Florida economy was suffering; they had just closed Cape Canaveral. People were gracious and took some of the guys in.

The money problems of the team were well publicized. Everybody knew the Blazers were struggling. I can remember one time my wife had gone into a drug store and bought groceries. She paid with a check. When she got home the store manager had followed her home, he walked into the house, and started taking the packages back to the store! He just assumed that the check would bounce due to the money troubles of the team.

Our kids were in catholic school in Orlando. One day my wife and I went to school and we told the minister that we couldn't get the money right then to keep the kids in school. They let us keep our kids in school until we could get the money. They told us that we could pay them later so our kids could stay in school.

While we were in Orlando I was always in touch with the business community. I had a lawyer down there that was advising me on what was legal and what wasn't. The police, I had a good relationship with them, would let me know if a player was in trouble or something so I could take care of it. They (the community) were really helping us out. When we got back from Birmingham, after the World Bowl, a judge called me and told me to get down to the offices and get any personal items out because they were going down to padlock the doors. I knew it was over then.

HOF: In 1975, many of the Blazers' players were transferred to the new San Antonio franchise- the Wings- were you a part of that move?

JP: I had had all the fun I could take. I know that some of the players went to that team in the hope of resurrecting the league in 1975. That was the attempt to get the league on solid ground. I was contacted by the Chicago Bears in late December and decided to go with them and the NFL.

HOF: When you became coach of the Bears you brought some of the former Blazers with you to the NFL.

JP: I was able to bring about six players with me- Greg Latta, Dan Peiffer, Eddie Sheats, Larry Ely to name a few. There was some resistance to the WFL players in the NFL. Many of the Blazer players had come from the NFL. The players I brought to the NFL were, new to the NFL- they should have had a chance in that league. The Steelers drafted Tommy Reamon, we tried to trade for him, but they wanted him to come to camp. I brought a core group of my coaches as well.

HOF: Who were some of the toughest teams in the WFL?

JP: Los Angeles had a defensive lineman- Dave Roller, who was tough. Chicago had a great quarterback Virgil Carter, and Ron Waller did a good job getting a team together in Philadelphia. He put that team together with a lot of semi-pro players and they were tough to defend against. "King" Corcoran was a smart quarterback. They (the Bell) would spread you out and move your linebackers, and run quick hitting plays- it was difficult to stack against them due to their formations. Corcoran was the key to that; he could read a defense well. He had to count the defense and go away from the load. Ron Waller had formations that were very different, now everyone is using them.

HOF: Was the World Bowl the toughest loss you suffered in your career?

JP: It was tough at the time, but I've been involved in others. There was a tough loss up in Buffalo, and when I was an assistant in San Diego we lost an overtime game to Miami, and a few in Denver. All of those games were on the road.

One interesting thing about the WFL and the USFL was that in 1985, the USFL sued the NFL for monopoly. If they had the damages that the lawyers were asking for there would have been four teams in the NFL- Memphis, Birmingham, Arizona and Baltimore. The USFL had good owners, they paid a lot of money and we (the Gamblers) had some players go on to the NFL and play in the Pro Bowl. The Gamblers were merged with the New Jersey Generals and Donald Trump that would have put Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker, Gerald McNeil and Clarence Verdin all on the same team- they would have competed in the NFL from the start.

HOF: Who were some of the leaders on offense and defense?

JP: Looking for a blend of young and old players you had to look at our quarterback, Bob Davis. Bob was a veteran leader. Tommy Reamon. From the first day in training camp I could see that Tommy was going to be a good player- there was no doubt when watching him. He was a good runner, blocker, and would do everything it takes to win. Greg Latta. Greg could play any where- and later played in the NFL. Jim Strong was another veteran leader. Matt Maslowski. Matt was the steady guy who would come in and make a big play when you needed it. Hubie Bryant. He was a good receiver and a tough blocker. We had another running back, Richard James, who could stretch the defense. We had a veteran offensive line- Walter Rock, Del Williams, Tim Brannan, and Dan Peiffer. Peiffer played in the NFL with the Bears for years after the WFL. I picked up some offensive lineman who had been through NFL camps and although they didn't play in the NFL, they had experience in pass and run blocking from camp. All of these guys could play ball.

Our secondary was very experienced. Rickie Harris was a good safety. Chuck Beatty was a quality player for us. He had spent some time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miller Farr and Billy Hayes- they could cover. We could do a lot on defense with those guys back there. The linebackers were sound. Larry Ely had spent time in Cincinnati. Billy Hobbs had come over from the Philadelphia Eagles. He had some troubles with passing a physical, but our doctors weren't as detailed, and we picked him up and he played well for us. We also were able to get Larry Grantham, another veteran leader. We didn't have to apologize to anyone with those guys back there. Defensive end Louis Ross was a good pass rusher. We had a young guy from Maryland, Paul Vellano, and Mike Mc Bath from Florida. Eddie Sheats- he was a real linebacker, good hitter.

HOF: What would you want people to know about your time in the World Football League?

JP: That the World Football League was a very real experience. I appreciate what you all are doing, and I think that the people that really care are the ones who were involved with it. There were people that wanted to write a book about the WFL, and that was always my answer- everyone would think it was fantasy. The story of the WFL was the commitment of the players and seeing what a group of people, with the right determination, could accomplish. It wasn't about the money; it was the best coaching job I've ever had. To see what the guys are doing now- to know that Tommy (Reamon) is coaching and working with people... it just makes you extremely proud. I am very proud of Tommy and what he's doing, and of all the players. He (Tommy) was a great kid. And he coached Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks. As a coach you hope that you have some effect on their lives, that you gave them something that was important to them and their future. The reward for a coach is to hope that you pass on something to your players in their formative years.

As a coach, I didn't have anyone telling me how to coach. We put the whole thing together and handled all the tasks of building the team.

NOTE: The Jack Pardee interview was conducted by Jim Cusano and Richie Franklin. This interview appeared on the former WFL Hall of Fame Web site and is used with permission. This interview is property of the World Football League Web site and may not be used without the written permission of the Web site owners.