Indoor facility named after Steve Pardue
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It felt like home.
When Steve Pardue came to LaGrange High as a young coach in 1991, just a few years out of college, he wasn’t familiar with the school, or the community, but it was a place he felt a kinship with, and he was comfortable being a part of the football coaching staff at the school.
That was the start of a relationship between a coach and a football program that yielded plenty of wins, a handful of state championships, and a lot of pleasant memories.
Pardue, after spending three seasons as an assistant coach at LaGrange, took over the football program in 1994, and he remained in that position through the 2010 season.
By the time Pardue’s tenure at LaGrange was finished, he’d amassed a stellar record of 161-45 while leading the team to eight region championships and three state titles.
“I grew up in western Kentucky, and never heard of LaGrange, Ga.,” Pardue said. “I really believe I was brought here (by God). Would I have been successfully anywhere else? I don’t know. I just really hit it off here, and the coaches were unbelievable. Our players, I loved them. Tough kids. I always tell people, once you truly love them, you can coach them as hard as you want to, and I loved every second of it. Did they drive me crazy sometimes? Yes, they did. But I love my players here. We had great, great football players.”
After leaving LaGrange High, Pardue coached running backs at the University of Kentucky before returning to the Peach State as the head coach at East Coweta for three seasons, and he’s now retired from coaching.
While it has been a decade since Pardue was officially affiliated with LaGrange High, his appreciation for the school and the football programs remains, and the feeling is reciprocal.
On Monday evening, how much Pardue means to the school was on full display.
An indoor practice facility at the school, which officially opened its doors a few months ago, has been named after Pardue, and a ceremony in his honor was held on Monday, with dozens of men and women who know him and were a part of his time at LaGrange High on hand to share the moment with him.
“I loved my time at LaGrange High School,” Pardue said. “I had an unbelievable coaching staff, unbelievable players, an unbelievable support staff.”
As for the athletic complex at the school that also includes a new weight room, Pardue said “I’m so excited about this building. I miss the old building. There were a ton of memories in there, but it’s time to move on. I thank the people of LaGrange for passing SPLOST and building this.”
LaGrange athletics director Mike Pauley, who was a part of Pardue’s football staff as the head coach of the freshman team, introduced his friend and former co-worker.
Pauley listed Pardue’s extensive list of achievements as a coach, including his career record of 185-84, as well as the numerous honors he’s received, including his selection into the Georgia Athletics Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“Coach’s progression and understanding of the game of football was amazing,” said Pauley, who was a successful basketball coach at LaGrange before becoming the athletics director. “His awareness of what everybody was supposed to be doing was second to none on the staff. There was not a better football coach on the staff, and we had great football coaches.”
While acknowledging Pardue’s football knowledge, Pauley said “they don’t hold a candle to your relationships. Coach was really good at relationships. His players knew he loved them. Coach did a really good job of making everybody’s families feel a part of the program, from the bus drivers to everybody.”
Pauley added that “of all the things, work ethic, organization, knowledge of the game, awareness and relationships, the greatest (attribute) of them all, coach, you’re God’s man. Coach is God’s man. He knows it, and we know it, too.”
Pardue, after graduating from Austin Peay where he was an offensive lineman, began his coaching career in 1985 at Fayette County while working for head coach Conrad Nix, who was a part of Monday’s ceremony.
After spending one season at Fayette County and another season at Albertville High in Alabama, Pardue returned to his home state and was the head coach at Crittendon High (Ky.) from 1987 to 1990.
Pardue came back to Georgia in 1991 to join a LaGrange staff led by Gary Guthrie, and he was the outside linebackers for a team that went 15-0 and won a state title as the USA Today national championship.
“My biggest goal was that if we didn’t win it all, I hoped the outside linebackers weren’t the reason,” Pardue said.
After two more seasons as an assistant coach, Pardue was elevated to the head-coaching position following the departure of Guthrie.
The Grangers were a combined 11-9 in Pardue’s first two seasons, but they went 11-1 in 1996, and the program was off and running.
Everything came together in 2001 when the Grangers went 14-0 and won a state title, and they also captured state championships in 2003 and 2004.
From 2000 to 2009, the Grangers went 114-17, and in addition to the three state titles, they advanced to the state semifinals in 2005 and 2008.
When LaGrange won the championship in 2001, Pardue recalls keeping his emotions in check until he saw his wife Pam, who’d been with him throughout his coaching journey.
“The first one, I was really OK until I saw Pam, and then I just lost it emotionally,” Pardue said. “I’d always dreamed of that moment. I don’t know if it’s ever what you thought it was going to be, but it was a very emotional time, and a very exciting time, and I was so happy for LaGrange.”
The Grangers, after getting knocked out in the third round in 2002, won another state title in 2003, and that one was a bit unexpected considering all of the players that had graduated.
LaGrange lost its season opener to Troup before going on a 14-game winning streak.
“That was such a magical year,” Pardue said. “Nobody thought we had a chance, and we started winning football games in the playoffs.”
As the Grangers prepared for the 2004 season, they were the overwhelming favorite to win a repeat state title, and Pardue recalls a conversation he had with his offensive coordinator and neighbor, David Traylor.
“We got in the car during the preseason, and he looked at me and said I sure hope we don’t screw this up,” Pardue said. “We had such a great football team.”
The Grangers met all the expectations placed on them by going 15-0 and winning a third state title in four years.
“All three of them were different, but all three were a lot of fun,” Pardue said.
LaGrange continued to win big throughout the rest of the decade, and Pardue left following the 2010 season to become an assistant coach at Kentucky.
LaGrange’s coaching staff was remarkably stable during Pardue’s tenure, and he had the same offensive coordinator and the same defensive coordinator from his first season as head coach to his last.
“I tell people, how many people have the same coordinators for 17 years,” Pardue said. “My whole career, David (Traylor) was the offensive coordinator, and Donnie (Branch) was the defensive coordinator.”
Part of the reason for the stability among the coaching staff was the family-friendly atmosphere Pardue strived to foster.
Pardue’s own children, Morgan and Chas, could often be found in his office, and they were hardly the only young people who made the school a second home.
“We worked a lot of hours, but we were kid friendly,” Pardue said. “Our kids grew up in our office. They grew up at practice. I hear coaches say I regret I didn’t spend more time with their families. I don’t have regrets like that. My kids were around all the time.”
Pardue enjoyed having his children near him, and he is also incredibly grateful for the support of his wife Pam, who was always by his side.
“Being a coach’s wife, it’s a lot of sacrifices,” Pardue said. “You have to share your husband with other people. Everywhere you go people want to talk football, which I love. She was there. She was a big, big part of our success, and my success.”
Following his three seasons at Kentucky, Pardue became the head coach at East Coweta, and he led the team to three straight eight-win seasons.
Pardue’s final coaching stop was at LaGrange College where he spent one season as the head coach in 2017, and he hung up his whistle after that.
For Pardue, the relationships he built with the players was one of the most satisfying aspects of being a coach.
At LaGrange, Pardue coached so many gifted players, many of whom went to enjoy success in college and on the pro ranks, but he enjoyed his time with everyone, regardless of their talent level.
“It was all the guys,” Pardue said. “It wasn’t just the guys that went on and played college football. It was everybody.”
One of the players Pardue was closest to was Wesley Woodyard, a standout defensive player on the 2003 team.
It was Woodyard who made a tackle in the end zone for a safety, giving LaGrange’s its only points in a memorable 2-0 win over Swainsboro in the state quarterfinals.
Woodyard was a four-year starter at linebacker at the University of Kentucky before beginning his NFL career in 2008, and he played for the Broncos and Titans for a combined 12 seasons.
The two have remained good friends over the years, and Woodyard provided a recorded video message for Pardue.
“Coach, you deserve everything that came your way. You’re one of the greats,” Woodyard said. “You’re my favorite coach I’ve ever been around. You get it, you understood what it takes to challenge young men and at the same time you put all that together to be successful on the football field, off the football field, and you made it a place where knuckleheads could succeed.”
Woodyard added that “you understood what it meant to be a coach. Most coaches don’t understand. They just care about winning on the football field.
“You care about more than Xs and Os. Yes, you love to win, but you put together a great staff that bought into your dream, your vision. But you challenged us as young men to become better people.”
While Pardue isn’t coaching any longer, his interest in the sport is still there, and he has enjoyed watching the program have a rebound season under first-year head coach Matt Napier.
“I am so excited about Matt Napier being at LaGrange,” Pardue said. “You can just see these guys getting better. The program is in great hands with him and his staff. I think they’re going to do a really good job.”
Being on the practice field, or at Callaway Stadium on game night, no doubt brings back memories for Pardue, and they’re overwhelmingly positive.
“I truly love LaGrange High School. It was kind of love at first sight,” Pardue said. “I didn’t feel like I ever really worked here. I enjoyed getting up. I couldn’t wait to get to the office. It was a great time in my life.”