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Jack Patera

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Jack Patera

Jack Patera
Date of birth: (1933-08-01) August 1, 1933
Place of birth: Bismarck, North Dakota
Career information
Position(s): Guard
Linebacker
College: Oregon
NFL Draft: 1955 / Round: 4 / Pick: 44
Organizations
As player:
1955–1957
1958–1959
1960–1961
Baltimore Colts
Chicago Cardinals
Dallas Cowboys
Career stats
Playing stats at

John Arlen "Jack" Patera (born August 1, 1933) is a former American football player and coach in the National Football League. He played for the Baltimore Colts, Chicago Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys. He was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings. Patera was the first head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. His career head coaching record is 35-59-0, all with the Seahawks.

Early life

Patera attended Washington High School in Portland, Oregon. Upon graduation he enrolled at the University of Oregon, where he played college football from 1951–1954, earning All-Pacific Coast Conference honors as a tackle in his senior year. Other honors included his selection to play in the 1955 East-West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, and the College All-Star Game. Patera was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1982[1] and the University of Oregon Hall of Fame in 2000.

NFL Player career

Patera's NFL playing career started when he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1955 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. Although he was initially drafted as an offensive guard, he was soon switched to the defense as a linebacker and played at that position for three seasons under head coach Weeb Ewbank. In 1958, he was traded to the Chicago Cardinals and played there for two seasons under head coach Frank Ivy. In 1960, he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960 NFL Expansion Draft. Under head coach Tom Landry, he was designated as the starting middle linebacker in the Cowboys 4-3 defensive scheme. Unfortunately Patera's playing career ended early when he suffered a knee injury in the fourth game of the 1960 season. Patera returned in 1961, but played in only two games and retired at the end of the season.

Coaching career

Assistant coach

His playing days over, Patera turned his attention to coaching and joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1963 as a defensive line coach. During his tenure with the Rams from 1963 to 1967, he was responsible for directing the Fearsome Foursome, one of the most dominating defensive lines in the NFL during the sixties.

In 1968, Patera became an assistant coach for the New York Giants, but left after one year to take an assistant coaching position with the Minnesota Vikings under head coach Bud Grant. As defensive line coach with the Vikings from 1969 through 1975, Patera worked with another very talented and dominant defensive line, nicknamed the Purple People Eaters. During this period, the Vikings would go to three Super Bowls (IV, VIII, IX).

Head coach

In January 1976, Patera was hired as the first head coach for the new Seattle Seahawks expansion team. Shortly after arriving, he began the difficult task of building a competitive team from the ground up. Along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seahawks selected 39 players through the NFL expansion draft held on March 30–31, 1976. The other 26 NFL teams each protected 29 players on their rosters. Seattle and Tampa Bay alternated selections from the remaining pool of unprotected players. Acquiring quality veteran players via free agency was not an aspect of the league at that time. However, the Seahawks were awarded the 2nd overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, a pick they used on defensive tackle Steve Niehaus.

Since he would not have the player talent to compete with other NFL teams possessing superior power, speed and finesse, Patera resorted to a wide-open gambling style offense that was centered around a passing game using lots of creative gadget plays. "I had a team that could move the ball like hell, but couldn’t stop anybody," Patera said. "So I figured that to win more ballgames we’d simply have to gamble more often. I would much rather have beaten teams on muscle and execution, but we just didn’t have the talent."

Even with the lack of talent, Patera still found a way to win games. In 1976, the Seahawks would finish their first season with a 2-12 record, which was typical for a first year expansion team. The 1976 season also showed promise for the future with quarterback Jim Zorn and wide receiver Steve Largent beginning to develop into a potent offensive combination. Behind Zorn and Largent, the team improved their performance with a 5-9 record in 1977. When the Seahawks finished with an impressive 9-7 record in their third season, Patera was voted the NFL Coach of the Year in 1978 by the Associated Press and Sporting News. The Seahawks finished with a 9-7 record again in 1979, but it was followed by disappointing losing seasons in 1980 and 1981.

As a head coach, Patera was considered to be a stern disciplinarian with strict rules of conduct. For example, he required players to hold their helmets a certain way on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem. His players were required to wear coats and ties when traveling on the road. One of his most controversial rules was that he wouldn't allow players to have water breaks during practices at training camp in Cheney, Washington where temperatures frequently reached into the nineties in July and August.

Patera's relationship with the local press in Seattle was stormy at times. He did not enjoy the constant questions about his coaching decisions and the dissection of his teams performance by the sports reporters. He once held a seven-second press conference after a particularly difficult loss in Seattle. After asking, "Any questions?", he left the room when reporters started giggling when none of them spoke up.

In 1982, the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) was threatening to strike over deadlocked negotiations with NFL team owners to give a percentage of the gross revenues for player salaries. Patera's relationship with his players rapidly deteriorated when he first threatened and then fined players for participating in a union solidarity handshake with the opposing team at midfield during pre-season games (actually it was team management that made the decision; GM John Thompson was a former head of the NFL bargaining committee). When Sam McCullum, a popular player and union representative, was cut from the team by Patera one week before the season started, it was speculated the release was done as retaliation for McCullum's union activities. The release was eventually ruled an illegal termination in an "Unfair Labor Practice" lawsuit brought against the team by the NFLPA and McCullum.

After losing the first two games of the season, Patera was fired by the Seahawks on October 13, 1982 along with GM John Thompson. The announcement was made by John Nordstrom, representing the Nordstrom family as majority owners. The firing occurred during the 57-day NFL players strike which had started on September 21. He was replaced by Mike McCormack, who was the Seahawks director of football operations, as the interim head coach for the remainder of the 1982 season.

After being fired by the Seahawks, Patera never took another coaching position and is completely retired from football. He currently resides in Cle Elum, Washington with his three dogs. He and his wife, Susan, are divorced after 44 years of marriage. They have four children.

Patera is the older brother of former Olympic weightlifter and professional wrestler Ken Patera.

References

  1. ^ "Hall of Fame Roll of Honor Members". Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  • Bill Knight, Fun & Games, Fledgling Seahawks grew up in Cheney Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 15, 1997
  • Jim Moore, Patera has left NFL lifestyle far, far behind Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 9, 1999
  • Tom Danyluk, Titans' trickery reminiscent of expansion Seahawks Pro Football Weekly, December 15, 2004
  • Kristopher Jones, Jack Patera: America Loves an Underdog Seahawks.NET, February 15, 2005
  • The Hawkstorian, Mike McCormack: The Interim Genius Seahawks.NET, February 16, 2005.
  • John Donovan, How far they've come, Ex-QB Zorn reflects on 30 years of Seahawks history Sports Illustrated, February 2, 2006
  • Anonymous, Biography: Jack Patera, 2000 Hall of Fame Inductee University of Oregon Athletics, February 8, 2006
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