Although Coach Jack Pardee had once benched Payton as a rookie, Payton was one player who said he was sorry to see him leave (by his own choosing) in 1978 to take the same job with the Washington Redskins. Payton felt that Pardee instilled a winning attitude in a team that needed it, plus he had made Walter the focus of the offense. That didn’t change under Neill Armstrong, Pardee’s successor, a likable man but not a dynamic coach. (Author Jeff Pearlman describes him as a “room-temperature bowl of vanilla pudding”).
One can’t help wondering, therefore, how Payton’s career and role with the Bears might have changed if the team had hired either Bill Walsh or Don Coryell, two coaches secretly interviewed for the job. Both had reputations as masterminds of the passing game, Walsh of the famously precise “West Coast Offense” and Coryell as the innovative proponent of the “vertical passing” attack.
Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl wins with Joe Montana at quarterback. The Bears inexplicably passed up an opportunity to take Montana in the third round of the 1979 draft even though the team’s scouts were high on him.