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Jack Patera, first coach of Seattle Seahawks, dies at age 85

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 31, 2018, 5:06 p.m.

Seattle head coach Jack Patera gets the game ball from Sherman Smith on Aug. 29, 1976, after the Seahawks won their first NFL game in Seattle, against the San Diego Chargers, 17-16 in the last seconds of the game. (Anonymous / AP)
Seattle head coach Jack Patera gets the game ball from Sherman Smith on Aug. 29, 1976, after the Seahawks won their first NFL game in Seattle, against the San Diego Chargers, 17-16 in the last seconds of the game. (Anonymous / AP)

SEATTLE – Jack Patera, the first coach of the Seahawks whose creative offense and willingness to take chances helped the team become immediate popular, died Wednesday at age 85, the team confirmed.

Patera died of pancreatic cancer. He had been living in Cle Elum, Washington, where he moved in the late ’90s, he said in a 2014 interview with the Seattle Times.

Patera coached the Seahawks from 1976-82 and compiled a 35-59 record before being fired after the first two games of the 1982 season.

Patera, who played guard at Oregon and linebacker in the NFL with the Colts, Cardinals and Dallas from 1955-61, made his name as the coach of the defensive lines of the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings – the famed Fearsome Foursome and Purple People Eaters, respectively – before being named Seahawks head coach on Jan. 3, 1976.

He guided the team through its expansion years, forming teams that belied his image as a tough, no-nonsense, defense-first guy who instead wowed fans and helped fill the Kingdome with team based around an explosive passing attack led by quarterback Jim Zorn and Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, and a willingness to take chances.

Seattle had what were at the time the best records for any second-year expansion team in 1977 (5-9) and third-year expansion team in 1978 (9-7). Patera was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year following the 1978 season when the Seahawks swept the Oakland Raiders en route to finishing a game out of the playoffs.

Seattle finished 9-7 again in 1979, again a game out of the playoffs, before dropping off in 1980 (4-12) and 1981 (6-10). Patera was fired following a 0-2 start in 1982, during what became a prolonged player strike.

Despite the defensive background that helped get him the job, Patera’s teams were known for a high-flying offense led by Zorn and Largent. The Seahawks ranked in the top seven in points and yards in the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Patera’s Seahawks were also known for their propensity for fake field goals and punts. A 20-yard pass from Zorn to kicker Efren Herrera highlighted a Monday Night Football win at Atlanta and had announcer Howard Cosell loudly signing the praises of Patera and the Seahawks.

“I want to tell you, folks, this is the kind of play pro football needs,’’ he wailed as the unlikely play concluded. “Not parity, but enterprise, inventiveness. (Seattle coach) Jack Patera is giving the nation a lesson in creative football.’’

“He was a great coach,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “He was a great dude. I know the guys that played for him really loved playing for him. When we met them, on the days they come in for alumni days, he was really important to all those guys. Really important to a lot of them. So we’ll miss him.”


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