First Seahawks Coach Jack Patera Dies
The Seahawks and Seahawks fans mourn the death of their very first head coach, Jack Patera, who died of pancreatic cancer on October 31, 2018. He was 85. Patera’s passing follows the death of the Seahawks’ second head coach, Chuck Knox, who passed away on May 12, 2018.
John Arlen Patera was on born August 1, 1933, in Bismarck, North Dakota. He attended Washington High School in Portland, Oregon, and went on to play football at Oregon from 1951–1954.
He began his 38-year career in the NFL when he was selected by the Baltimore Colts as the 44th pick in the fourth round of the 1955 NFL Draft.
“I was a down lineman in college, I played offensive guard and defensive tackle in those days,” said Patera. “I was drafted by Baltimore, and there were 33-man squads, so the people who could play both ways did. So I played offensive guard, and the middle guard stood up, so I stood up as a linebacker.”
Patera played for the Ravens in the 1955-1957 seasons, and would go on to play as a linebacker for the Chicago Cardinals (1958-1959) before being selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960 expansion draft. A knee injury ended his playing career in 1961.
He made his entry into the NFL coaching ranks as a defensive line coach with the Los Angeles Rams in 1963. After five seasons with the Rams, Patera became an assistant coach in 1968 for the New York Giants, and left after one season to become the defensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings went to three Super Bowls over the next seven seasons, with three losses: vs. the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, vs. the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, and vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX.
Patera recalled the process of moving from the assistant coaching ranks to becoming the head coach of the expansion Seattle Seahawks franchise.
“I found out Seattle had been awarded a franchise,” Patera said. “I thought about it. I had been an assistant coach and I never really wanted to be a coach. I wrote a letter to (Seahawks GM) John Thompson, he was with the Vikings when I was there, and never heard a word. We were in the playoffs, Minnesota was playing the Cowboys, and Herman (Sarkowsky, Seahawks ownership group partner) and John called me the night before and wanted to talk to me after the game about this job. We went out to dinner, and after a bit Herman turns to John and he says, ‘John, I think we found our coach.’ It was the only interview I ever had with them, and they had been interviewing a lot of people. I knew a lot of coaches that had applied for the job that had been interviewed. So when I went home, my wife said, ‘Well, how did it go?’, and I said, ‘I think I’m hired!'”
In January 1976, Patera was hired as the first head coach of the Seahawks.
Putting together an expansion roster would be a difficult task, one would think. But Patera had been in a similar position earlier in his career.
“It wasn’t that big a challenge. I was with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 as part of their expansion, so I had a great experience,” he said. “Tom Landry (Cowboys head coach) was the best coach I had ever been around; his word was gospel to me.”
The Seahawks’ very first training camp in Cheney, Washington, was very much an introductory session for the entire roster, and for their head coach, who came up with a unique way of identifying his players.
“When we had our first training camp, I had everyone put their name and number on the front of their helmet so I could know who they were,” Patera recalled.
Located in Eastern Washington, Cheney gets its share of hot weather in the summer. And while water is easy to access in Cheney, it wasn’t for Patera’s players during camp, the thought being forgoing water breaks would toughen his players.
Norm Evans was a tackle with the 1976 Seahawks, and has vivid memories of Patera and the team’s very first game.
“Every time I think about the Seahawks I think about Jack Patera’s first pre-game speech,” said Evans. “I’ll never, ever forget it. Jack was by the door just when we were about to go out to warm up. He folded his arms like he always did, and he said, ‘Alright you guys, I know just how you feel. It’s my first game too.'”
Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent scored four touchdowns during that first season, and he recalls Patera’s reaction following his very first career touchdown.
“The first time I scored a touchdown, I spiked the ball in the end zone,” said Largent. “I came back to the sideline and Jack goes, ‘You know, Steve, when you score a touchdown, you should act like it’s not the first time you’ve been there, and it won’t be you’re last time.’ I can tell you that, with one exception, that’s the last time I spiked the ball in the end zone.”
The Seahawks finished their inaugural season with a 2-12 record, but Patera had seen progress along the way.
“Losing is hard, I don’t care what the circumstances are,” he said. “Other expansion teams had problems too, so you’re aware that things are going to be tough, but it seemed to me we were making progress almost from day one. We didn’t have anybody that was hard to handle or causing problems. I was happy with this organization, Herman (Sarkowsky) and John (Thompson) were super, they were easy to work with. So even though we weren’t winning, it wasn’t hard.”
The Seahawks finished with a 5-9 record in 1977, and topped that in 1978 with a 9-7 record. After that third season, Patera was voted the NFL Coach of the Year by the AP and the Sporting News. The Seahawks finished with a 9-7 record again in 1979, but followed with a 4-12 season in 1980 and a 6-10 season in 1981.
After losing the first two games of the 1982 season, Patera was fired on October 13, 1982. He was replaced by Mike McCormack, the Seahawks director of football operations, as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Patera never took another coaching position and retired from football.
Patera was reunited with a number of his former Seahawks players in September, 2016, when the team held a “Patera Era Weekend,” honoring both the coach and his players from those early days of the franchise.
He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, the University of Oregon Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Patera had resided in Cle Elum, Washington, and is survived by four children: Mike, Mary, John and Beth.