Steve Pardue is one of the better-known college football scouts in Georgia — less than two months after being hired by Kentucky.
Pardue is easily recognizable in the state’s inner circle of high school coaches because he was part of it for so long.
Pardue resigned in November after 17 years as LaGrange High’s coach. After unexpectedly landing his first college job as an SEC assistant a month later, Pardue got another surprise when he started to travel across the state to recruit players for Kentucky.
“I was thinking about that the other day,” Pardue said with a laugh. “I’ve been to about 25-30 high schools in Georgia [during the recent recruiting period] and the funny thing is that I have yet to meet a new coach. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve known the head coach.
“And I didn’t pick the schools, Kentucky’s [recruiting staff] did. It has just worked out that way. I’ve known every head coach at every high school I’ve gone to so far.”
Pardue’s looming presence in Georgia was a main attraction with Kentucky’s job offer. He led LaGrange to the state playoffs in 14 of 17 seasons, winning three state championships. If Pardue didn’t meet an opposing coach during the season, he likely chatted with him at passing leagues or coaching clinics. He also was heavily involved with Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA).
Recruiting Georgia’s fertile grounds is one of the top priorities for Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, and he figured that Pardue knew them as well as anybody. It also helped that Pardue was born and reared in Kentucky.
“One thing that I wanted to do is hire someone that could recruit the southern part of Georgia and also had some Kentucky ties,” Phillips told reporters. “Coach Pardue has been [with the GACA] for a number of years and was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. We think that Georgia is really important for us, and we wanted to branch out [in recruiting the state].”
Coaching legend Conrad Nix, who retired from Northside-Warner Robins after the 2009 season, praised the hiring, adding that it likely will lead to more Georgia prospects having the opportunity to play at an SEC school. Nix said Pardue is well aware of both the high caliber and depth of talent in Georgia, as compared to surrounding states.
Camden County coach Jeff Herron, who says he can’t remember the last time Kentucky recruited one of his players, applauded the Wildcats for the personnel decision. “Steve knows the state, and he knows the coaches,” Herron said. “He knows where the players are and where they aren’t.”
Relationships are a critical part of the recruiting process, and Pardue already has that — at least with most of the state’s coaches.
“Absolutely it makes a difference when you know you can trust a coach recruiting your players,” Herron said. “It will help a school like ours, because I’m familiar with Steve and he’s familiar with me. It’s a good situation.”
Pardue said one of the job perks has been visiting with his old coaching buddies again in recent weeks. Because of the long-time friendships, both sides are direct and honest with player evaluations.
“If Jeff Herron or another coach tells me that they feel a guy can play in the SEC, then I listen to them,” Pardue said. “Because I know they know what a great player looks like, and I know they won’t tell me if they don’t believe it.”
With Kentucky putting the finishing touches on this year’s recruiting class, Pardue has focused on acquiring a wealth of inside information on the state’s future prospects. However, he made a favorable impression in a short time with two Georgia senior tailbacks committed to Kentucky, Grady High’s Marcus Caffey and Whitewater High’s Josh Clemons. Pardue, who coaches Kentucky’s running backs, and Phillips made in-home visits with both high-profile recruits last week.
“I really like Coach Pardue — he said he has a lot to come in and learn [at the collegiate level], just like me,” Clemons said. “Hopefully, we can grow together and get this thing rolling.”
When Pardue stepped down as LaGrange’s coach after last season, he did it simply because he “needed a change and the timing was right.” Pardue didn’t have much time to think about his next career move, which could have included athletic administration or working for the school system in another capacity, before Kentucky approached.
“I decided it was the chance of a lifetime, and if I was ever going to coach in college, now was the time,” Pardue said. “Honestly, if it hadn’t been Kentucky and Joker Phillips wasn’t the coach, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. If Joker had been coaching somewhere else, I may not have gone.
“But with Kentucky being my home state and [Phillips] being the coach there and someone I really believe in, that was the reason I left [the LaGrange area].”
When Phillips was an assistant at Kentucky, he grew close to Pardue as they developed what rival recruiters refer to as the “LaGrange-to-Kentucky pipeline” with prospects. Six former LaGrange players were on Kentucky’s roster last season.
“If LaGrange has good players, I’m going to recruit them hard,” Pardue said. “I’d never try to get them to come to Kentucky just because I’m there. Will we continue to have that type of relationship with LaGrange High? I don’t know.
“That ‘pipeline’ deal has kind of been blown up by other people. It was [Phillips] who took a chance on some guys we recommended and they really shined. Then they kind of sold their buddies on Kentucky.
“If they want to call it a ‘pipeline,’ then hopefully we can get about 10 or 12 other schools in Georgia to do the same thing, and we’ll be in really good shape.”