Pardue hoping to ‘build on what’s already been done here’
by Chris Goltermann
For just one morning, Chaz Pardue traded in LaGrange royal blue for East Coweta purple. It may have been well worth it to see his father Steve finally rejoin the high school football coaching ranks in Georgia.
'I'm just glad he's got a job,' said Chaz sarcastically, just an earshot away from the Indians' next head coach on Monday morning and mom, Pamela. 'Too much downtime.'
To which Steve replied, 'He's tired of me being around too much.'
East Coweta, though, may have been ready to welcome Pardue - wearing a purple tie with his suit on Monday - with open arms after his hiring was made official by the Coweta County School Board.
While searching for a replacement for Clint Wade following seven years as head coach and 22 within the program as a former assistant to longtime predecessor Danny Cronic, the Indians again turned to an accomplished veteran.
'I've got so much respect for the job Danny did to get this thing started and Clint did a good job as well,' Pardue said. 'What I want to do is just take it and build on what's already been done here.'
Pardue enters with a 161-45 record most recently at LaGrange High from 1994-2010, during which time his teams won eighth region titles and three Class AAA state championships, all coming during a four-year span from 2001-04. The Grangers equally made the state playoffs in 15 of his 17 seasons as head coach.
'Just look at the record. You don't get to 161-45 without being excellent at what you do,' said East Coweta High Principal Evan Horton. 'Yes, football is a big part of any school, but the benefits that it will pay for the school as a whole I feel will be tremendous. I'm just tickled to have him here.'
The Kentucky native has an overall record of 178-68 over 21 years having been a three-year letterman at Austin Peay during his playing days.
'His reputation precedes him,' said East Coweta Athletic Director Ken Kesselring, who was a head coach in Tennessee before going head-to-head against Pardue as a member of Robert Herring's staff at Newnan. 'I had heard of Coach Pardue even before I came to coach in this state. I'm looking forward to getting things started.'
Pardue seemed equally anxious to return to the high school game after being part of a University of Kentucky football staff under head coach Joker Phillips from 2010-2012. While the spotlight of big-time Division I football in the Southeastern Conference was exciting, he still missed being under the lights on the sidelines on Friday nights.
'We don't want to have just a good season here or there. We want it to be where they say East Coweta, you know what you're going to get. For 48 minutes they're going to play hard every Friday night.'
'It just ended up being a really good fit,' he said of the opening at East Coweta. 'Being a head coach and an assistant is a lot different. I used to be able to tell Pam when I was going to be home. At Kentucky, I was on Joker Phillips time. That and the interaction with the kids. You have that in college, but it's different. There's nothing like Friday nights to me. Some other parts you get tired of. But I really missed that.'
Unlike his son, who may have been ready to stash Tuesday's hooded sweatshirt deep into a drawer as he gets ready for his senior baseball season with the Grangers this spring, Steve Pardue seemed to welcome his East Coweta's purple and gold even if his coaching wardrobe hasn't changed since the late 1980s.
'We've been [wearing] blue since '87? I came from a single A swge and then [the University of] Kentucky. If I'd go to the grocery store in red, people would say 'I don't recognize you,'' he said. 'But I'm excited about it. I'm ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work.'
In many ways, adapting becomes second nature to a high school football coach, where the players and their skill sets change nearly as often as the colors of the leaves each fall.
For Pardue, an opening at East Coweta - a state-playoff program for the last 17 seasons - offered plenty of opportunities.
'I think it's a real exciting time to be here,' he said. 'The fieldhouse and the renovation of the school, there's a lot going on. I want to get in there, meet the kids and start watching them work. It's going to be a big deal establishing a coaching staff, meet with the coaches here and see where we go from there. I'll rely a lot on the coaches who have been here to help with a lot of that.'
While there won't be a specific blueprint to work from, Pardue admits that the foundation will be similar to what's made both LaGrange and East Coweta successful programs.
'Every school's different. You've got to be able to adjust a little bit. I think the key is we want to build a program,' Pardue said. 'We don't want to have just a good season here or there. We want it to be where they say East Coweta, you know what you're going to get. For 48 minutes they're going to play hard every Friday night. The foundation at our program here will be like LaGrange, in the weight room. You have to have a tremendous off-season program, summer program to get you ready for the season. We'll become hard working kids. We want to be known as tough guys. Not dumb guys, but guys that are going to play hard and bring the lunch pail to work.'
It'll also mean adjusting to the available talent. Unlike his past three years at Kentucky, success in high school football often involves adapting from one year to the next.
'College, you recruit to what kind of player you want in your program,' he said. 'It's not like that in high school. Every year's different. At LaGrange when we had [running back] Bruce Thornton, we'd run the ball a lot more. When we had Blake Mitchell and some of those other guys [at quarterback], we threw it more.'
LaGrange created a pipeline to Division I schools in the SEC during Pardue's tenure that included Thornton and Mitchell, who went on to start at Georgia and South Carolina, respectively.
At one point, Kentucky had as many as five former Granger players including kicker Joe Mansour, who made field goals of 59, 56 and 52 yards during his senior year of high school.
Pardue feels having worn hats on both sides of the recruiting wars as both a head high school coach and college recruiter will only become a benefit in the long run.
'I think we did a pretty good job at LaGrange with the recruiting situation. But I feel like I've got an even better understanding now of how all that works. That's only going to help our players,' he said. 'I've been everywhere from Philadelphia to Dallas and it gives you an appreciation of the coaches here in Georgia and the job they do.'
As far as the X's and O's, defense expects to be a foundation.
'I feel you win championships with playing great defense. I think it starts there and we'll build our team there. Special teams, obviously, was really important to us at LaGrange,' he said. 'Offensively, that's probably the biggest mystery of what we do. I've really got to get a better feel for the kids. I feel you have to run the football still. I don't like throwing it around all the time and we will throw it. I think you've got to be able to run it. Number one, I don't think your defense can stop the run unless you run it yourself. That'll be a big part of what we do. What formations, I'm not sure yet.'
While Pardue had yet to meet with the current staff on Monday, there are at least two familiar faces on board in offensive assistant J.R. Revere and defensive coordinator Ahmand Tinker, both of whom played for him at LaGrange.
'J.R. was my first quarterback,' Pardue said. 'Ahmand was one of the first players I coached at LaGrange [as an assistant]. He came back and worked for me for a little bit the staff of my first state championship in 2001.'
Pardue admits that winning high school football championships isn't just a one-man operation, one that involves all the pieces of a much bigger puzzle coming into focus.
'Everything comes together to be able to do that. Your administration, your coaching staff, your players, your community,' he said. 'It takes all those things. And you've got to be a little lucky.'
While Pardue admitted he stayed away from attending games last fall, the coaching bug hadn't left, having seen other coaches, including mentor Conrad Nix - a two-time state champion at Northside-Warner-Robins who won 260 career games - benefit from a short break.
'I consider Conrad Nix my mentor and I had forgotten that he had taken time off in the 90s. He had gotten out. Northside called and he came back and stayed for 17-18 years,' Pardue said. 'I don't know. Maybe sometimes you need a little break. But I really am excited.'