As a teenager, Pardee moved to Christoval, Texas, where he excelled as a member of the six-man football team. He was an All-American linebacker at Texas A&M University and a two-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Rams (1963) and the Washington Redskins (1971). He was one of the few six-man players to ever make it to the NFL, and his knowledge of that wide-open game would serve him well as a coach. Pardee was one of the famed Junction Boys, the 1954 Texas A&M preseason camp held in Junction, Texas, by football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He was part of the 35 left from the approximately 100 players who went to Junction. After completing college at Texas A&M, Pardee was the 14th overall pick when he was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Rams as a linebacker. Pardee played for the Rams from 1957 to 1970, sitting out the 1965 season while battling melanoma. In 1971, Pardee joined the Washington Redskins, ending his playing career there in 1973.
When the World Football League started in 1974, Pardee got his first head coaching job with the Washington Ambassadors. The team would later relocate to Norfolk, Virginia, and become the Virginia Ambassadors before finally moving to their third and final home as the Florida Blazers. The Blazers, based in Orlando, made it all the way to the 1974 World Bowl and lost by one point to the Birmingham Americans. Pardee’s regular-season coaching record in 1974 with the Blazers was 14–6, and 2–1 in the 1974 WFL Playoffs and World Bowl. This was all the more remarkable considering that the Blazers went unpaid for the last three months of the season. Some of the Blazers players relocated to San Antonio as the Wings for the 1975 season, and Pardee would move on, too, signing on as head coach of the Chicago Bears for the 1975 season.
In 1975, Pardee was hired by the Chicago Bears as head coach. He spent the next three years there, leading Chicago to their first playoff berth in 14 years in 1977, before moving on to the Washington Redskins. In 1979, he led the Redskins to within one game of making the playoffs, but in the season’s final week, they blew a 13-point lead to the eventual NFC East champions Dallas Cowboys and missed the playoffs. He was fired after going 6-10 in 1980. In 1981, he was hired as assistant head coach in charge of defense for the San Diego Chargers.
In 1984, Pardee returned to his native Texas by becoming the head coach of the Houston Gamblers. The Gamblers played spring football in the United States Football League. The Gamblers had one of the most potent offenses in pro football, the run and shoot offense, with Jim Kelly as quarterback. The Gamblers merged with the New Jersey Generals in 1986, and Pardee was named head coach. With Kelly and Doug Flutie both vying for the role of starting quarterback, and Herschel Walker in the backfield, the Generals were poised to dominate the USFL. But the league’s attempted move to a fall schedule (at the behest of the Generals’ owner, Donald Trump), ruined any chance of that. Pardee’s combined USFL coaching record was 23-15. There would be no 1986 season, and the Generals, despite Trump’s best efforts, disbanded with the rest of the league.
Pardee returned to Houston in 1987 as head coach at the University of Houston. During his three-year stint, the Cougars, using the same offense he coached in the USFL, produced the first-ever African American quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, Andre Ware. His team also became the first major college team in NCAA history to have over 1,000 total offensive yards in a single game, raking up 1,021 yards while beating SMU, 95–21. Not long after Pardee’s arrival, however, Houston was slapped with crippling NCAA sanctions due to numerous major violations under his predecessor, Bill Yeoman. Among them, the Cougars were banned from bowl games in 1989 and 1990 and kicked off live television in 1989. As a result, most of the nation never got a chance to see the Cougars set numerous offensive records during the 1989 season.
In 1990, Pardee packed up the run and shoot offense and moved across town, and back to the NFL, by joining the Houston Oilers. He spent five years coaching a team which made the playoffs each of his first four years there, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. After starting the 1994 season 1–9, Pardee resigned.
He continued his coaching career in the Canadian Football League. In 1995, he was named head coach of the Birmingham Barracudas. Canadian football is somewhat more wide-open than American football, and owner Art Williams thought Pardee’s roots in the six-man game made him a natural fit. The “Cudas” were part of a failed experiment to expand the CFL into the United States. With Matt Dunigan at quarterback, Birmingham made the playoffs, but lost in the first round. However, due to dreadful attendance late in the season, the ‘Cudas were shuttered at the end of the season along with the CFL’s other American teams.
In December 2007, Pardee, then 71, was contacted by athletic director Dave Maggard about the vacant head coaching job at the University of Houston. Signaling interest, he made it as far as a finalist for the position, but the school moved forward with Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin. Pardee was married for 50 years to Phyllis Lane Perryman and had five children and 12 grandchildren. Pardee’s youngest son, Ted, is the color commentator for the Houston Cougars football radio broadcasts. In November 2012, Pardee was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer and it was reported by his family that he only had six to nine more months to live, The cancer spread to other organs and Pardee moved to a Denver hospice. Pardee died April 1, 2013, two and a half weeks before his 77th birthday. The family has established a memorial scholarship fund in Pardee’s name at the University of Houston. He is survived by his wife Phyllis, five children, and 12 grandchildren.
- April, 19, 1936
- Exira, Iowa
- April, 01, 2013
- Denver, Colorado