BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Jack Pardee is starting over again at age 58, in another league with high hopes and low budgets, in a city accustomed to off-Broadway brands.
A proven commodity with a recognizable face, he is the right fit for both the upstart Birmingham Barracudas and the troubled Canadian Football League. Indeed, there are certain selling points Pardee brings with him to Legion Field that are impossible to mistake.
There is the run-and-shoot offense, for instance, that has become his calling card.
There is his quiet confidence, apparent with his every Texas drawl.
And there is his reputation as a survivor, a reputation that takes in a lot of territory. This is a man who coached 10 1/2 years for three teams in the NFL, who is coaching in his fourth pro league, who enjoyed a 16-year All-Pro career as an NFL linebacker and who stared down cancer along the way.
"The only reasons I'm here is the CFL has been around forever and [because of] the owner we have," Pardee said. "In Art Williams, we have a guy who is not using mirrors. We're going to do it right, or I wouldn't be here."
Pardee is in Birmingham to coach the Barracudas, the CFL's newest expansion team. When he coaches his first game with the team, he will become the only man to have been head coach in four professional football leagues -- World Football League, NFL, United States Football League and now the CFL.
Pardee comes by this distinction from a hard road. He was fired by the Houston Oilers last November after following up four straight playoff berths with a 1-9 drop to the NFL's dungeon. Additionally, he carries the baggage of being the coach who blew a 32-point lead against the Buffalo Bills in a 41-38 playoff loss after the 1992 season.
"I went from being Coach of the Year in the AFC in 1993 to being fired," he said. "We didn't handle the [salary] cap well. We lost three defensive linemen, two offensive linemen and the quarterback. It was a different team.
"San Francisco cut $20 million off the cap and won the Super Bowl. We cut $10 million and went from best to worst."
Pardee is a symbol of a larger recycling theme in Birmingham. He is joined by quarterback Matt Dunigan, 34, working for his fifth team in his 13th CFL season. And Birmingham is working on its fourth pro football league. The previous three -- World Football League (Americans and Vulcans), USFL (Stallions) and World League of American Football (Fire) -- folded.
Whether Williams, a retired insurance mogul, can avoid the fate of his predecessors in Birmingham is uncertain. When the team opened training camp last weekend, fans were in a wait-and-see mode. Fewer than 2,000 season tickets have been sold. Success will be determined by how well the Barracudas learn to coexist with their college brethren in this Southeastern Conference hotbed.
Ty Coppinger, executive vice president of the team, said he believes the city can fulfill the boast painted on the east facade of Legion Field: "Birmingham -- Football Capital of the South."
"We won't replace Auburn or Alabama," Coppinger said. "As long as we don't try to compete with them, I think they want to see us [make good]. One of our challenges is to convince the area this is not just an other football league coming in.
"We're selling a 104-year-old league, an owner who's got plenty of resources to make the team competitive, and we're in a great football market. That should be a recipe for success."
Williams launched his corporate empire with the concept of term insurance in the 1970s. Forbes magazine reported that when he sold his company in 1989, it was for $75 million in cash and a 20-year incentive program that would pay him $35 million a year.
According to Coppinger, Williams paid the league's $3 million franchise fee, then committed $7 million to the team's operating budget. In March, he landed Dunigan with a three-year contract worth $2.7 million, which reportedly makes Dunigan the highest-paid player in the league, ahead of the Calgary Stampeders' Doug Flutie. Williams actually tried to trade for Flutie before signing Dunigan, but his cash offer was rejected.
Running an offense that Pardee says he got from Canada, Dunigan is expected to make the Barracudas an instant contender.
"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel," Pardee said. "I've always been a defensive guy. People ask why I got involved with the run-and-shoot. I say because it's hard to stop. The run-and-shoot kept me in this business the last 14 years."
Pardee used it with the USFL's Houston Gamblers -- and Jim Kelly at quarterback -- in 1984 and 1985, winning 23 of 36 games. From there, he took it to the University of Houston, where John Jenkins was his offensive coordinator, and to the Oilers.
Jenkins, offensive coordinator under Pardee once again, brushes off speculation that the injury-prone Dunigan will be more vulnerable in his offense.