BY Art Thiel 06:42PM 10/31/2018

Thiel: A hard man, Jack Patera, led the good times

The first Seahawks coach, Jack Patera, cut a memorable figure — blunt, tough, intimidating. But he also put Seattle’s expansion team on the map with an entertaining style of ball.

Herman Sarkowsky, left, a partner in the ownership group, welcomed Seattle’s first No. 1 draft choice, Steve Niehaus, to Seattle in 1976 along with head coach Jack Patera (next to Sarkowsky) and general manager John Thompson. / Seahawks

Jack Patera was a man of minimal words, backed by a maximum glare that could melt steel. After they lost to the Giants 32-0 in the Kingdome in 1981 to fall to 1-6, Seahawks players were prepared to be, well, vaporized in the locker room by their intimidating coach.

“Congratulations, gentlemen,” he said. “You’re now the worst team in the NFL. I’ll see you tomorrow. Full gear.”

That was it. That was enough.

Forced to abandon the mandatory post-game rest day, the shuddering players showed up at the practice field in Kirkland.

“We had a full-pads scrimmage, plus 20 minutes of up-downs,” said Steve Raible, a wide receiver on the team and now the franchise’s radio play-by-play broadcaster. “Just killed us.

“Next Sunday, we beat the shit out of someone, don’t remember who.”

The New York Jets lost 19-3 at Shea Stadium. They had six turnovers and 219 yards of offense.

“The message,” Raible said, grinning, “was well-sent.”

Patera, the 1978 NFL Coach of the Year, died at his home in Cle Elum Wednesday of pancreatic cancer.

A linebacker at Oregon and an NFL player in the 1950s who coached some of the best defenses in history (the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome and the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters), Patera built a surprisingly entertaining offensive team from the franchise’s 1976 debut through his 1982 firing during a players’ strike.

His successor, Chuck Knox, took many of Patera’s players to the club’s first playoff appearances in 1983 and 1984, when the legend of the 12s was born with the retirement of the No. 12 jersey. Knox, 86, died in May.

“He built the foundation,” said Raible, who was among numerous original Seahawks who would make occasional treks to the country home of their old coach to have several drinks, share many stories and engage in countless laughs.

Raible, a second-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech in Seattle’s first draft of 1976, recalled one of Patera’s rules: After a game, run, don’t walk, to the locker room. Above all, do not cross over the field to shake hands with your friends on the other team.

“If we just beat them, they don’t want you to go over to them and say, ‘Great game,'” Raible said of Patera’s rationale. “And if they beat us, we don’t want to shake their hands.”

After a preseason game, a former college teammate of Raible’s approached him post-game to say hello.

“I started backing away,” he said. “I told him, “I can’t talk right now.’ He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ He shakes my hand and hugs me.”

The next day at training camp in Cheney on the Eastern Washington campus, Patera at the end of practice gathered the team and called out the names Raible, Peter Cronan and Terry Beeson to come up front.

Two and a half football fields away stood trainer Jim Whitesel and an assistant holding up a big cardboard sign that read, “My friend.”

“Jack said, I want you guys to run — no, sprint — to go see your friend, since that’s what you did after the game,” Raible said. “And then I want you to sprint back, and then we’ll see if we can learn this lesson together.”

They did it three or four times.

“Jack said, ‘OK. Everybody got the message?’ And we all went in. It was an ass-kicking.”

Patera was, however, far from a bully. Raible recalled how much he cared for players, especially veterans. He began the tradition on plane flights of giving first class seats to veterans, in descending order. At the back sat the coaches.

“Last row, last seat,” Raible said of Patera’s spot.

Patera’s under-appreciated sense of whimsy showed up in his willingness to let it rip on offense. The Seahawks became an instant national sensation during a 1979 Monday night game in Atlanta — the Seahawks’ first appearance on national TV — when QB Jim Zorn rose from his hold for an Efren Herrera field goal, and let the chubby kicker get down field, when Zorn hit him with a first-down pass.

“You work with what you have,” Raible said. “He had a quarterback (Zorn) who could scramble around, and a receiver (Steve Largent) who could catch any ball close to him.  We built our offense on the sprint draw because we had a running back (Sherman Smith) who could get the ball deep in the backfield get up to the line quickly, go left or right and run away from people.

“We ran our share of trick plays because Jack enjoyed it and (assistant coach) Rusty Tillman was so good at coming up with them. Almost every time we ran one, they worked.”

Patera had a 35-59 record before he was dismissed in 1982 during a strike he resented. There was a belief that his waiving of WR Sam McCullum was for his union activities, triggering his own dismissal, although the McCullum decision was made in the front office.

Despite the regard in which he was held and his relative youth at the time, 49, Patera never coached again. Raible speculated that Patera was bitter about  players’ off-field independence. He didn’t re-engage with the Seahawks until 1999, when he attended the final game in the Kingdome, then in 2005 raised the 12th Man Flag at CenturyLink Field ahead of the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.

“I know Jack was real sick and he was battling,” Seahawks current coach, Pete Carroll, said Wednesday. “First head coach of the Seahawks. That’s too bad. He was a great coach. The guys that played for him really loved playing for him. We meet them on the alumni days, and he was really important to a lot of people. We’ll miss him.”

Tough as Patera was, Raible couldn’t help but smile at every recollection.

“A hard guy but a fair guy, old-fashioned, quiet until he wasn’t. Then you knew exactly where you stood,” he said. “He told me something I’ve always carried with me. He said, ‘You catch the ball as well as Steve Largent, just not as often.’

“I thought to myself, I think that’s a compliment, but I’m not sure.”

In the hard world of Jack Patera, even half-compliments were memorable.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Jeez , Hawks have been losing a lot of the old alumni the last few years ; Dave Brown died a while back , but Tez , Coach Knox , now Paul Allen and Coach Patera .. everyone’s time comes , but it’s difficult for an older fan like me who’s watched damn near every game since the inaugural season to see these guys pass away . Very sad .

    I used to love the old trick plays we pulled with Patera ; frequently it was the only way we could win back then . The two plays on the video above are great examples , but I also remember a play ( can’t remember against who or what year it was ) where Zorn lines up under center , the offensive line sets , defense sets up and ready to snap the ball ..

    Suddenly , Zorn stands up and starts to slowly walk towards the sideline like he’s gonna call a time out , but never does . Defense stands up out of their set cause they’re expecting a time out . Center snaps the ball to the running back when absolutely no one on the defense is set , which results in a big play … never seen that happen in any game before or since .

    That’s the kinda stuff I absolutely LOVED watching with coach Patera . God rest him , the man pulled every stunt in the book – and a few that weren’t – to try and get a victory .

    • art thiel

      Patera understood that expansion rosters are unlikely to win physical matchups, but they can occasionally outwit foes. Especially with a mobile QB.

      I don’t recall the play you referenced, but I have no doubt it’s true. Patera was not bashful about trickery.

  • Parts

    Thanks Art, nice article.

    • art thiel

      You’re welcome. There was much fun to be had in the early days.

  • jafabian

    I remember Coach Patera didn’t want to hear that the Seahawks were an expansion team when they first started. They were simply a football team and he thought they could win quickly and they did. He gave the franchise a solid foundation to start winning with. If Sherman Smith and David Sims didn’t get hurt and the team didn’t foolishly cut Sam McCullum they probably would have made the playoffs under him at some point. I enjoyed Jim Zorn’s story that Coach Patera never liked being called coach and if a player did he’d call them player. Good times. RIP.

    • art thiel

      With Curt Warner and some good health, Knox took Patera’s players to the playoffs.

  • Husky73

    Great to hear Pete Gross’ voice on the video. Patera once had a 7 second press conference. I saw Zorn and Herrera together, and they were asked to explain their kicking routine. Zorn said, “Well, I get down on a knee and look at Efren. I ask, Efren are you ready? And Efren says, yes Jim, I am ready.” It broke up the room.

    • art thiel

      The seven-second presser has lived on forever in Seattle sports media circles. The lesson: Be ready with a question.

  • coug73

    Is there any truth to the story that Efren Herrera ran off the field after kicking a field goal shouting “I kicked a touchdown”? Video showed Efren could catch and protect the football during the tackle. Lead blocker on Zorn’s run. Good times.

    • art thiel

      I think that was an apocryphal story attributed to Garo Ypremian.

      • coug73

        You are right.

  • woofer

    Great stories. The trick plays, even when they didn’t work, made inconsequential games memorable. Patera probably got as much mileage out of his team’s talent as anybody could. And who knew that John Thompson was a ringer for Jack Benny?

    • art thiel

      I hadn’t noticed the Benny doppelganger. Good point.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    We used to drink MNF at the tavern with the crappy big screen tv (not a lenticular screen yet so you had to be straight-on to see much), hoping that “our” highlights were included during halftime. Howard loved showing the Hawks’ trick plays. Patrons at the tavern loved Howard loving showing the beloved highlights.
    God bless Coach Patera.
    And when Coach Patera meets J. Michael Kenyon up there, get ready.

    • art thiel

      Cosell may have been the Seahawks’ most important fan in the 1980s.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    Maker of the first great Seahawks legacy. RIP Coach Patera
    I didn’t think of the term “12’s” as referring to those of us that were fans all the way back to Jack Patera’s time. I’m not sure what to call us, except an original fan. But then, in the passing of Paul Allen, I heard that it was his idea to salute the 12th man, and I guess create the 12’s. I’m now thinking that instead of my long time reference to those that jumped on the Seahawks’ bandwagon, I would rather honor both men by taking that term 12’s as a sign of respect from one to the fans of the other. If that makes sense.

    • art thiel

      The 12 jersey retirement happened in 1984. Not sure who got credit for starting it, and Tod Leiweke revived it in 2010. You may remember that the noise in the Kingdome was so intense that the NFL passed a rule calling for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if the home team crowd disrupted the opponent too much.

      It was ridiculous, and eventually rescinded.